The Future of Electric Vehicles in India

Since the last few years, the use of Electric vehicles as a successful transport option is catching up very fast with our times, and we hear from the automobile industry that we are almost there. The battery is now thoroughly tested and completely reliable. Governments are now seeing the huge benefits of moving away from oil. The automobile industry is realizing that the future of vehicles lies in the electronic vehicles and it’s time for the combustion engine to take a backseat. People want to buy vehicles that do not burn a hole in their pocket, for which the Government must introduce incentives that encourage people to buy electric vehicles.

The dependence on the fuel powered internal combustion engine, that run on diesel and petrol has raised serious environmental concerns. Developing countries need to import their oil from other nations which exposes consumers to volatile fuel prices. India has been seriously thinking about the ‘going electric” option. In January, this year the ministry of heavy industries unveiled the Draft Action Plan for Electric Mobility 2020 that aims to have almost 7 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. To meet this vision the Government will have to proactively participate in the development of the EV ecosystem.

The internal combustion has been around for more than hundred years now and incumbent automobile producers face a gargantuan challenge of adapting to this all new engineering transition. It offers automobile manufacturers a great opportunity to develop power train technologies and usher in a brand new era in the industry.

There are 3 types of vehicles powered by electricity: electric vehicles (EV), the hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and plug-in-electric vehicles (PHEV). According to a US department of energy estimate, all these 3 vehicles are capable of thwarting foreign petroleum usage and cost less to refuel per mile than combustion engine vehicles.

Electric Vehicles are propelled by a battery powered motor. The battery is charged by plugging the vehicle into the electric grid. This can be done either at home or a public charging station. HEV’s are powered by an internal combustion engine and also carry electric power in the battery. The battery is charged through regenerative braking and the combustion engine. The battery absorbs energy that is lost during braking and uses the electric motor as its generator. PHEV’s (Plug in electric vehicles) are powered by conventional fuels; diesel or petrol as well as the electric power stored in the battery. The battery is charged by plugging into an electricity source. The battery can also be charged by the internal combustion engine or regenerative braking. Since PHEV’s run both on fuel and electricity, they may be preferable for driving long distances, in case a charging station may be hard to find.

PHEVs and EVs have a downside story too. They are expensive to manufacture as their technology is new and they possess two engines, of which only one is used to power the wheels. Globally, light duty HEV, PHEV, and EV models are becoming available a number of automobile makers, with newer models expected to be release in the near future. One EV car is the Nissan Leaf, which needs to be recharged to keep it. Chevrolet is soon launching Volt, which is a PHEV. This car will cost close to $33,000 in the US, which is around $8,200 more than the Nissan Leaf. The Volt is much costlier, but gives a 340 miles range compared to the Nissan Leaf.

According to a recent study, an average Indian household drives around 19300 km per year. That’s about 1,600 km per month. This converts to about 402 km per week and close to 64 km per day. Once this distance is covered, the Volt’s battery level drops under 30 per cent, then the internal combustion engine (ICE) pushes it’s power on board to the car. That adds approximately another 480 kms to the car’s range, in case one wants to use the Volt for more than just commuting to work and back. Industry experts say that in future, the internal combustion engines onboard PHEVs may become more efficient, smaller in size and use other alternative eco safe fuel.

The advantages of EV’s seem to outweigh its disadvantages. The advantages are energy efficiency, environment friendliness, performance benefits (quiet, smooth operation and stronger acceleration), reduction of energy dependence as electricity is a domestic energy source.

Some of disadvantages EVs face is its driving range. (EVs can only go about 150–250 kms before recharging—gasoline vehicles can go over 400 kms before refuelling.), longer recharge time, battery cost and the heavy weight of the battery.

Currently research is on to improve battery technologies and increase driving range and decrease recharging time, weight, and cost. These will be the deciding factors of the future of electric vehicles on our roads.

Experts say that future of transportation in India has to be in electric mobility, the sales of electric cars in the US and countries of the European Union are steadily increasing. There is a lot of talk about the possibility of producing bio-fuels but such fuels can never replace diesel and petrol, though it is said that bio-fuels produce less carbon, they release a good amount of nitrous oxide that is more harmful than carbon, not to mention the large area of land required to produce bio-fuels, which makes it a completely unviable option.

Though advocates of bio-fuel talk about making use of wastelands, they tend to forget that only 35 percent of the 60 million hectares of wastelands is cultivable, and even this land does not produce enough yield that may make it a good option for investment; but at the same time India has great potential to produce electricity.

The future of electric vehicles in India does not look very bright at the moment. Though the Government has set up the NEMMP (National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020), there needs to be much more awareness about EV’s. Mahendra Reva, a modestly priced electric car has not been able to catch the fancy of consumers. The introduction of Government incentives may change the picture slightly. Consumers need to learn about the various benefits of owning an electric vehicle.

A few years back, at the launch of Mahindra’s Rewa the company showcased certain technologies that could make our lives more energy efficient. One such technology is Quick2Charge, a petrol pump format for charging an electric vehicle (EV). If large oil corporations would adopt this, it would allow an EV-owner to charge his or her car for 15-minutes to go at least 25 km. This makes for a lot of waiting time but at the same time one can save up to Rs. 60,000/- in fuel costs. This certainly makes the wait at the charging station worthwhile.

The Government also needs to work on developing a national strategy to facilitate more charging stations. With fuel prices soaring to an all time high, it is high time that we embrace a technology that is affordable, creates no pollution and safeguards the environment for our future generations.