Govt’s push for electric vehicles has been narrow minded; must focus on the broader picture

In what seems to be a giant step for the country towards a cleaner and greener future, the government’s top brass will be brainstorming today to come up with a plan for promote electric vehicles (EVs) in the country.

It appears to be fresh start considering that there have been plans in the past, which so far have failed to bear any fruit. The meeting according to a PTI report, will see senior ministers like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Power Ministers Piyush Goyal and Heavy Industry Minister Anant Geete put their heads together to chalk out a new plan that should in all probability help push sales and use of EVs in the country.

Obviously, the intent should be an India that is less polluted and greener, but the agenda from the report, seems to be to save fuel worth Rs 60,000 crore. Whatever is the intent behind the move, the challenges however remain the same.

 Govt’s push for electric vehicles has been narrow minded; must focus on the broader picture

The Tesla Model 3 is available on pre-order for customers in India.

Experts have been ranting about it every time Tesla makes an announcement, or Elon Musk puts out a tweet. The bottom line (that will hopefully be addressed in the coming plan) gets clearer with every new announcement. There are plenty of hurdles to overcome, some of which include higher cost of vehicles, lack of charging infrastructure and of course, the lack of facilities that will take care of all those used batteries that result from this push for EVs.

What we have “accomplished” so far

We have been here before. Back in 2013, the Government of India launched the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020. Its aim was to achieve national fuel security (again, note the intent) by promoting hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles in the country.

In 2015, the government then came up with FAME India or Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles in India. This was a part of National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, a scheme with Rs 795 crore support in the first two fiscals.

The same report also states that back in 2012-13 nearly 42,000 electric vehicles were sold in the country. In 2013-14 that number dropped to just 20,000 and this would include both hybrid and electric vehicles sold. If you were imagining fancy hybrid cars with high price tags or the humble all-electric Reva (now the Mahindra Reva) it’s none of those. The report clearly states that the major chunk out of this small figure (for a country like India) consisted of low speed scooters. It is indeed no wonder that crossover electric bikes like the Volta Motors Zap are picking up in terms of demand today.

Crossover electric bikes like the Volta Zap are seeing better demand than cars.

Crossover electric bikes like the Volta Zap are seeing better demand than cars.

As per the scheme, depending on technology, battery operated scooters and motorcycles will be eligible to demand incentives ranging between Rs 1,800 to Rs 29,000. Similarly in three-wheelers it is from Rs 3,300 and Rs 61,000.

With four-wheelers, the incentives range from Rs 13,000 to Rs 1.38 lakh, while in light commercial vehicles it is from Rs 17,000 to Rs 1.87 lakh, and for buses it is from Rs 34 lakh to Rs 66 lakh.

So why isn’t anyone buying them? Well, it’s the broader picture that should be addressed in the upcoming plan, which hurts.

How it’s done elsewhere

In the US where electric vehicle adoption in growing (partly thanks to Tesla), the state-wide incentives go far beyond mere rebates.

As per Vocativ, individual states not only offer rebates, but other incentives for buyers and owners that drive down the cost of owning these electric and hybrid vehicles even further, making for a good push.

The various states have made EV ownership a better deal than the usual gas guzzler.

The incentives apart from the (2000 USD) rebate includes exemptions on vehicle inspections, emissions tests and high-occupancy lanes. Owners of electric cars can also avail of utility rate reductions, park in front of parking meters without paying and even receive different financial incentives. Indeed, it makes the higher price of EVs worth the trouble. The intent again seems to be a cleaner environment.

Electricity prices

Along with these, fuelling up an electric car at a charging station is also a lot less here compared to filling your gas guzzler with gasoline. And here is where it gets a bit embarrassing.

According to a 2011 report by Ovo Energy, electricity prices in the US were at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. Back then, the price of the same in India along with China was the lowest around the globe at 8 cents.

A 2016 chart on Wikipedia via an official release (by the Ministry of Power) points out that India is still stuck between 0.1 – 18 cents with an average of just 7 cents. The USA has gone up a bit and hovers between 8-17 cents.

So it is evidently clear, that previous rebate schemes (FAME) is doing no good. More over long range use of electric cars in India is a clear no, due to the severe lack of charging stations, an infrastructure problem, that should hopefully be addressed this time around.

Then comes the whole availability problem, as there are indeed a handful of cars in the country to begin with. Without the government support, lack of infrastructure and the complete lack of smart incentives, electric cars indeed become a tough sell. And since there has been no strong or solid initiative from the government so far, manufacturers will not introduce electric cars, but will stick to parallel hybrids (ones that generate their own charge), that offer a mix of both one that provides the consumer some peace of mind for in city driving. Pollution however still remains a problem. And so far, these hybrid cars (Camry Hybrid, Prius etc.) are the only ones that actually benefit from the FAME discount.

Electric vehicles along with plug-in hybrids, are greener as they possess larger batteries and can run solely on electricity (Reva, Teslas etc.) over longer distances, which means they are greener. And with the right intent, (which the government has so far gotten wrong) they can reduce India’s pollution along with India’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Hopefully, something new comes out of Government’s push for electric vehicles at the brainstorming session with incentives that mimic the US at a broader level, than what we currently have in place (hybrids). Something that should focus on cleaner air and greener cities for future generations instead of focussing on saving fuel worth Rs 60,000 crore.

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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2017 13:46:32 IST