It’s been touted as the LED moment of transport — the vision of an all-electric passenger car market in India by 2030, greening of the system being the link. The reference is to what the Vienna Energy Forum famously referred to as the “largest energy transformation project in the world” — the task of replacing millions of street and household lights with energy-saving and longlasting LEDs, in the process, taking electricity into many villages for the first time. Even as a clutch of automakers — and a few non-car companies, too — gear up to create an ecosystem for electric vehicles (EVs), there’s something quietly underway on the government front. Come December, state-owned Energy Efficiency Services (EESL) will float tenders for 25,000 electric rickshaws and a same number of electric autos for phase I of sale to aggregators in public transport. That’s step one of the LED moment.
PLAN OF ACTION
E-rickshaws are three-wheelers with a covered cabin, have speed limits below 25 km per hour and can seat four passengers (excluding the driver). They’re ideal for last-mile connectivity from, say, metro stations to workplaces. The e-auto can cover longer distances at higher speeds and has more stringent criteria on performance, safety and construction. The government plans to procure the vehicles though EESL — dissociated from the battery — and lease out to aggregators, who will deploy them in the market. Industry committees have already released specs for the vehicle, powertrain, weight and battery. Ministry officials associated with the projects declined to comment to ET. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, principal advisor, minister of power and new and renewable energy, who is leading this project, also declined to comment. Contenders for the project include Mahindra & Mahindra, Lohia Auto, ElectrothermBSE -4.98 % and Kinetic Green. Public sector giants such as NTPC and Power Grid Corporation of India may take up the task of setting up the swapping and charging infrastructure; this is expected to take two to three years. M&M will throw its hat in the ring for both e-rickshaws and e-autos. “We are ready with the e-autos and e-ricks and will participate with both when the tender is floated,” said Pawan Goenka, managing director, M&M. Mahindra has a “full range” of e-rickshaws that will be rolled out by end of the year.
Unlike Mahindra Electric’s other vehicles, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries, the e-rickshaw is powered by a lead-acid battery to keep costs low. However, Mahindra also is working on lithium-ion and swappable batteries for e-rickshaws, according to Goenka. The e-rickshaws, which will be manufactured at the company’s factory in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, will be able to cover 80 km with one full charge. The e-rickshaw market is pegged at 1 lakh units per month across India, with a chunk being monopolised by unorganised players. But the utility of the vehicle for last-mile connectivity and in areas where transportation is still a challenge is attracting a host of automakers. Kinetic Green, from the promoters who rolled out the once-iconic Kinetic Honda scooter two decades ago, is the leading player in the e-rickshaw segment, which sold over 10,000 units last year. “We are geared up to participate in the project with the specs required for e-rickshaws,” said Sulajja Firodia, chief executive, Kinetic Green. “We are pleased that the government has stipulated stringent quality and efficiency criteria for e-rickshaws. At the same time, the infrastructure for swapping and charging will be a key requisite.”
A key advantage in these vehicles will be the lithium-ion battery. “Swapping a lithium-ion battery takes just two minutes as it is lighter (25 kg). Lead acid batteries take several hours to charge,” Firodia added. Currently there are 2 crore autos and around 10 lakh e-rickshaws on the road. “The government’s vision of 100% electric mobility by 2030 is the right aspiration,” said Chetan Maini, vice-chairman, SUN Mobility. “Even if we are able to achieve 50-70%, India will be one of the largest adopters of electric mobility.” Maini is part of the team charged with setting up battery swapping stations. EV options are becoming more economical than petrol/diesel vehicles for four reasons, explained Maini — a reduction in battery costs, improved EV technology, reduction in renewable energy costs and growth in shared mobility. Such advancements, when combined with newer business models such as battery-swapping, will enable substantial benefits to the end consumer. “India has unique opportunities to deploy battery-swapping technologies because of significant growth in shared mobility.
With cost of technology, batteries and renewable energy coming down, these solutions are becoming more cost-comparative to gasoline vehicles,” said Maini. “SUN Mobility is developing unique open architecture solutions around smart batteries and battery swapping technology by partnering with leading players in the mobility industry,” said Maini. The system will operate on a pay-as-yougo basis, where the consumer will be able to purchase the EV at a cost comparable to that of a petrol/diesel vehicle; energy costs will be lower than those of fossil fuels without any range anxiety (the worry of running out of battery charge). Another manufacturer of both e-autos and e-ricks is Lohia Auto, whose CEO Ayush Lohia said, “We are ready with both products (e-ricks and e-autos). In the initial phase, we may be a slow mover but by March 2018, we will be able to meet government targets.”