The irresistible charm of electric mobility

An ambitious target that envisions “India as a global hub of manufacturing of electric vehicles” has been announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The Economic Survey earlier proclaimed boldly: “It may not be unrealistic to visualise one of the Indian cities emerging as the Detroit of EVs in the future.” 

The word “leapfrog” is used often for electric mobility in India. Just as many people’s first phone was wireless, so can their first vehicle be electric, is the thinking behind those who want a radical shift in our commute patterns. 

NITI Aayog has already been pushing for electrifying all three-wheelers by 2023, and all two-wheelers by 2025, and has run into expected opposition from industry incumbents. An earlier proposal to have all cars electric by 2030 was watered down in the face of resistance from various groups. 

On the other side of the fence, younger companies are impatient to electrify mobility in India. In an interview with BloombergNEF, Anand Shah, co-founder of Ola Electric, outlined plans to focus on electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers to ferry passengers or packages. “In our view, they are the low-hanging fruit,” he said, as he talked about relying on a model where the vehicle battery is promptly swapped rather than patiently charged. The company secured $250 million from SoftBank earlier this month, and is being dubbed as India’s latest unicorn. 

It would be challenging for India to create a competitive advantage in EV manufacturing. For one thing, it is not the easiest place to conduct business. India ranks 77 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings and can only provide capital subsidy or other support in a limited manner. 

Its largest competitor would be China, which has had quite a head start in this race. There are 486 electric vehicle manufacturers registered in China, according to a Bloomberg News report in April. The country is the world’s largest manufacturer and buyer of EVs and also has the world’s largest network of public charging stations. Additionally, China accounts for 75 per cent of the world’s lithium cell manufacturing capacity. 

Fans of Tesla would know that the company chose to set up a manufacturing plant in China, which happens to be the company’s biggest market after the US. Production is expected to start by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, there are some encouraging signs of impending changes in the transport sector in India:

 
10,000 charging stations target: Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), the company that bulk-procured LED lights and brought down their prices, plans to set up 10,000 EV charging stations in the next two years. Other companies that have announced their intentions to set up charging stations include NTPC and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. EESL has also procured EVs from Tata and Mahindra for government offices. As of May 2019, about 1,000 vehicles were already running, and another 2,500 were in the process of being delivered.

What range anxiety? A few hours ago, Hyundai India launched an electric SUV in the country that can travel 452 kilometers on a single charge. However, with a price of Rs25.30 lakhs (approximately $37,000), it remains to be seen whether sufficient market traction will develop. Many more electric car launches are in the pipeline. 

Solar with EVs: Solar module manufacturer Waaree Energies has been selling customised flexible solar modules for use on the roofs of railway coaches, in addition to trucks, buses, and yachts. The marriage of solar with EVs makes for a compelling business case.

The author is the Editor – Global Policy for BloombergNEF. She can be reached at vgombar@bloomberg.net

 



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