Electric vehicles pave the way forward as the Indian market gets ready for the influx of new, pollution-free vehicles

The rise of electric vehicle (EV) sales in the US and the advent of Tesla and its maverick founder Elon Musk has created a paradigm shift and increased interest and awareness about EVs all over the world. As per company’s data sourced from ycharts.com Tesla’s market capitalization is $52.35 bn for 27 Dec 2017.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

In India, EVs have been around for a long time. Reva Electric Car Co from Bangalore introduced India’s first electric car in 2001 which was later acquired by Mahindra Ltd in May 2010. The success of the over one lakh e-vehicles including e-rickshaws plying in Delhi and its adjoining cities have also emboldened car manufacturers to go forward with launching new EVs.

The recent awareness about rising air quality pollution levels in India’s major metros has led to an increased effort to hasten the advent of EVs to combat pollution.

EVs at present have very low penetration out of the 25 lakh cars being sold annually in India. The government has prepared a game plan by which in the next three years, it is hoping that six million electric and hybrid cars will be sold in the Indian market by 2020 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan. The thrust on hybrid cars is that since it uses two or more engines which includes an electric motor and a conventional petrol or diesel engine, this twin-powered engine helps cut fuel consumption and conserve energy.

To give EVs a boost, under the new goods and services tax (GST) regime starting 1 July, EVs are being taxed at 12 percent compared with 28 percent that petrol and diesel vehicles are subject to.

Electric car chargers are seen at the Holloway Road Shell station where Shell is launching its first fast electric vehicle charging station in London, Britain October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner - RC1CF1B53430

Electric car chargers are seen at the Holloway Road Shell station where Shell is launching its first fast electric vehicle charging station in London, Britain October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner - RC1CF1B53430

When India’s state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) awarded a coveted Rs 1,120 crore order in September to Tata Motors Ltd to supply 10,000 electric cars, it signalled the government’s intent to walk the talk on electric mobility. If this comes to pass, this can be seen to be a major achievement of the government given that 80 percent of the oil in the country is presently being imported.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government wants only EVs to ply on India’s roads by 2030 as part of its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the global agreement on climate change. Former Minister of Power Piyush Goyal had reiterated this point repeatedly in several meets. Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari had also reinforced this point emphasising that automakers need to switch over to more green-friendly alternatives as he too was determined to ensure 100 percent electric mobility by 2030.

To do so, as a first step, the cost of batteries of EVs need to be substantially reduced. Already, the Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant had announced that by 2020, he expected prices of EV battery to be down from $250 to $100. Once this is implemented, Kant pointed out, the price of an EV car will be the same as its gasoline counterpart.

A step in this direction has been the Japanese car manufacturer Honda Motors Ltd announcement of its intention to set up a lithium-ion battery manufacturing unit in India. An announcement to this effect was made in the capital on 24 December.

An aerial view shows the brine pools and processing areas of the Soquimich (SQM) lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat. Image Credit: Reuters

An aerial view shows the brine pools and processing areas of the Soquimich (SQM) lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat. Image Credit: Reuters

This is part of the group’s determination to ensure that by 2030, 65 percent of the overall sales of the company will be EVs the world over. Honda has already tied up with Hitachi to make electric motors.

The EV market in India has heated up. Maruti Suzuki is setting up a $600 million lithium-ion battery factory. Maruti’s own investment in this sector will be over $500 crore and it is expected to launch variants of many of its popular model using EV technology. Mahindra & Mahindra also has two electric vehicles under production.

A key problem faced by EVs is charging infrastructure and charging range and the lengthy amount of time spent charging the batteries. EVs average 120 km on a full charge and most Indians feel car makers need to update technology which reduces charging time but allows better mileage on a full charge.

The government will have to make it mandatory for petrol pumps and metro stations to become popular car and bike charging stations. Already, Karnataka has mandated that charging points and pods be planted in all high-rise buildings though no data has yet been tabulated on just how many such charging points and pods have been installed as of now.

A hybrid electric car plugged in for charging

A hybrid electric car plugged in for charging

The city of Nagpur has also taken a step in the right direction. It presently has 200 EVs including taxis, buses, auto rickshaws and e-rickshaws running in the city. Speaking at the inauguration of the project, in May 2017, Gadkari had declared that this pilot project was a first step in helping the country conserve imported crude oil as also help reduce pollution levels in the city. The Nagpur citizens see this as being a step in the right direction but believe that only when the scale of the operation is increased will it be able to make a discernible difference in their lives.

Unfortunately, car manufacturers face challenges of lack of consistency in government policy. Hybrid cars are also environmentally friendly car options for customers. Maruti Ciaz and Maruti Ertiga Hybrid versions are presently available in the market. Maruti is planning on launching the Swift Hybrid in 2018 which is paired with a standard petrol engine and a 10KW motor generator MGU. The system automatically stops the engine and switches to electric vehicle driving when the vehicle is running at a constant speed or during creeping. Hybrid vehicles using diesel engines are also available.

The problem is that car manufacturers feel hybrid cars are being unduly taxed. From 1 July, hybrid cars are being taxed a 43 percent under GST while EVs are being taxed at 12 percent. As Jnaneswar Sen, senior vice present Honda Car Ltd, pointed out that although they had planned to follow the hybrid route and they had even launched the Accord hybrid, but following GST, car prices of the hybrid model had gone up and the demand has dried up.

Toyota has also decided to stop the sale of its hybrid car, the sedan Camry, following the new GST regime.


The other older, green technology which has proved effective is CNG in buses, cars and two-wheelers. Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles work much like gasoline-powered vehicles with spark-ignited internal combustion engines with the natural gas being stored in a fuel tank or cylinder with the CNG fuel system transferring the high-pressure natural gas from the fuel tank to the engine. Being highly subsidised, it remains a more affordable fuel for the common man.

CNG models of cars are available across most manufacturers including Hyundai, Maruti and Tata. The advantage with CNG is that it can also be retrofitted in most petrol cars.

The Central Road Research Institute has released data for Delhi giving a breakdown of the numbers of vehicles on Delhi roads. Delhi as an example sees 42 percent people use buses, 25 percent use Delhi Metro, 25 percent use private vehicles and 8 percent use auto rickshaws. Buses contribute 20 percent of vehicular CO2 emissions and private vehicles constitute other 60 percent. Out of the total registered vehicles in Delhi 1 percent are buses, 31 percent are cars and 64 percent are motorcycles and scooters.


As part of a pilot project to curb vehicular pollution, a Honda Activa CNG scooter will hit the road soon in India. If successful, green scooters with CNG kits will soon descend on Delhi roads. CNG fitted two-wheelers are expected to lessen carbon monoxide emissions by 20 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 75 percent as per scientific assessment conducted by the Ministry of petroleum.

A similar CNG kit is being developed for motorbikes. According to ES Ranganathan, MD IGL Gas Ltd, while the technology to retrofit the Scooty models has been developed, it is in the process of being developed for motorbikes.

An effort is being made to reduce pollution levels in conventional petrol and diesel cars. Petrol engines are being downsized with less cubic capacity and offering VVT (Variable valve timing) technology which optimises the intake valve-timing technology which further boosts fuel efficiency and reduces carbon footprint.

While there is no doubt that for the present, all the three options of Internal Combustion engine, Electric Vehicles, CNG vehicles and Hybrid technologies will co-exist, the future clearly belongs to EVs.

Norway, Germany, Britain, France and China have announced their plans to end use of fossil fuel in cars by 2040. India is also determined to meet this objective and is working towards this goal.

Updated Date: Dec 29, 2017 13:48 PM