India’s new power trip: Electric vehicles rule the roost, emerge as new ethical and popular choice
It is fast, does not cough poison, and costs little to keep going. It is the electric car, autophiles, and there is one or more for every pocket and every road.
Elon Musk, the futuristic billionaire spearheading the electric car revolution, would be bemused to learn that the Tata-owned automobile giant Jaguar is launching I-Pace, the company’s first electric car in India at double the price of a Tesla.
In 2020, four long-range EV models were launched in the country, with the Tata Nexon and the MG ZS EV marking the lower end of the price spectrum, the Hyundai Kona and the Mercedes-Benz EQC the middle and high-end, respectively. Currently, there are eight EVs available in India; the I-Pace that costs between Rs 1.05-1.12 crore, Mercedes-Benz EQC for Rs 1.04 crore, and the Hyundai Kona Electric priced between Rs 23.75-23.94 lakh.
Cheapest is Strom Motors’s e-car costing between Rs 3-4.5 lakh. Tata Nexon EV’s tab is between Rs 13.99-16.39 lakh. Tata Tigor EV is priced between Rs 9.58-9.9 lakh; MG ZS EV between Rs 20.99-24.18 lakh; and Mahindra E Verito between Rs 10.15-10.49 lakh—these are the on-road prices in Delhi.
Joining the electric car race soon is BMW i3, Mahindra XUV300 Electric, and Tesla Model 3. The Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles notes a 20 percent increase in EV domestic sales as compared to the previous year. Change is in the driving seat.
Three usual questions an average Indian car buyer is concerned with are: fuel efficiency, maintenance cost and dealer-network support. Looks too have become important in the car market that changes faster than Lewis Hamilton on Daytona Beach.
So why buy an electric car?
Pros: Delhi-based Prabhu Sharma, a sales executive at a lighting firm, says the driving experience of an EV is refined. He owns a Tata Nexon EV. “There is no engine noise. Driving long stretches isn’t tiring.
Customer care is efficient. I recently drove from Delhi to Amritsar and needed to charge the car mid-way. I called up Tata Motors, which had given me an emergency number. Tech support reached me in a matter of minutes to recharge the battery. With that kind of service, why would I pick anything else?” he asks. “The suspension of EVs is far superior since they weigh more than their Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) counterpart.
The battery is situated in the middle section of the car, therefore its centre of gravity position makes the drive cushy,” says Sharma. Manoj Nair from Kerala, too, owns a Tata Nexon EV. Initially, he thought the price was quite high.
But soon the advantages overshadowed the economics. “I don’t have to pay road tax. There is no maintenance cost. I don’t have to go for periodic filter changes and engine oil changes. I spend around Rs 900 a month to recharge the car battery, which is less than what I would have spent on petrol. The car drives extremely well and there are no issues with the power or torque,” he discloses.
Cons: An EV is almost double the price of a conventional car. The Tata Nexon EV goes for Rs 13.99 lakh, while its ICE counterpart is for Rs 7.10 lakh (ex-showroom). There aren’t enough charging stations in the country and many RWAs do not allow installations of charge points fearing electricity problems.
What makes an electric car expensive?
The answer lies in the battery that currently accounts for about half the cost of the vehicle. It has to be large enough to power all systems in the car. EVs run on imported lithium-ion batteries, and India has very little of lithium. The import bill has grown three-fold between 2017 and 2020. However, 1,600 kg of lithium was discovered in Karnataka recently.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance research predicts that falling global battery costs 77 percent between 2016 and 2030 will bring down EV prices in the US and Europe by 2025.
Morgan Stanley projects the price of lithium batteries to become almost equal to that of ICE vehicles in India by 2026. Mordor Intelligence estimates the Indian battery market will grow four times over the next five years. The GST and import duty on lithium is 12 percent now, despite the automobile industry seeking a reduction down to five percent.
But individually motivated solutions are never a problem in India. Odisha sisters Nikita and Nishita Baliarsingh discovered after some serious research that crop residue can replace non-biodegradable lithium.
This was how Nexus Powers was born in 2019, according to betterindia.com. The sisters are in business with farmers to build EV batteries using crop residue—each farmer will make an additional Rs 25,000 per 100 batteries from selling their crop residue to Nexus Powers.
The batteries charge eight to 10 times faster than the competition, claim a longer life by 20 to 30 percent and are 30 to 40 percent cheaper. The Baliarsinghs plan to go commercial next year.
The next power play would be hydrogen. Jaguar Land Rover has plans to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology. A car’s tank will be filled with hydrogen that releases only water vapour, unlike the poisonous emissions by petrol and diesel engines.
What is pocket-friendly about EVs?
The difference in fuel cost between EVs and combustion engine cars will put a smile on any prospective buyer’s face. For example, 10 units of power are required to fully charge a Mahindra e2o to its full range of 100 km. At an estimated cost of Rs 4 a unit, the whole trip can be completed for Rs 40.
The petrol version claims a mileage of 15 km per litre at an average price of Rs 90 per ltr; it would require Rs 9,000 to cover the same distance. The Hyundai Kona’s battery packs a punch of 39 kWh to cover 452 km and 39 units of electricity to go from dry to fully charged. There are three types of charging: Trickle Charge, AC Charge, and DC Charge.
The first is the slowest and uses a standard three-point 220v pin plug not recommended except in an emergency. In EVs, the onboard charger converts power from AC to DC which is fed into the car’s battery. The converter is inside the DC charger itself which enables a direct feed to the car’s battery.
The best way to charge your EV battery is at a public DC fast charging station with a power of at least 50kw. An EV’s motor also generates electricity using regenerative braking.
The maintenance of an EV is far cheaper than an ICE car. For one, it runs on an electric motor, not a complex engine. Automotive data experts KeeResources note that an electric car is cheaper to service and maintain by at least 30 percent than an ICE vehicle. Regular check-ups of electrical systems including the battery, electrical motor, and minor electronics are all that is necessary. Kia provides a battery warranty of three to 10 years.
Electric cars need fewer fluids; all that is required to regulate the battery temperature is a coolant. Like with all cars, an EV’s brake disks and pads too will require maintenance; but far less than an ICE vehicle. The good news is that solid-state batteries could be on the market soon they are not as flammable as lithium and are not affected by charging and winter conditions.
Energy storage is the key to cost control. An automobile engine runs by transforming stored energy into kinetic energy. Energy in conventional cars is stored in the fuel tank and released through a chemical reaction within the engine. The lithium batteries of EVs release energy electrochemically, since no combustion is involved.
But where are the charging station?
Charging at home is more convenient than using a public charging station, of which there are simply not enough. Data shows over 80 percent of EV owners top up their batteries at home. Recognising the charging station crunch, auto companies are offering many incentives.
For instance, purchase a Tata Nexon EV and Tata Motors will install a charging facility at the owner’s home free of charge. The Nexon’s EV lithium-ion battery pack, which promises a range of 312 km on a maximum full charge, requires about an hour of fast-charging to reach the 80 percent-mark. It takes around nine hours to power up 90 percent of the battery using a 15 A plug point.
The Central government has ordered builders to set aside 20 percent of parking space for EVs in all residential and office projects. According to MarketWatch, at present, there are about 250 public charging stations in India. Kenneth Research pegs the vehicle infrastructure growth by 40 percent during 2019-2025.
The Indian government plans to set up 2,636 EV charging stations in 62 cities across 24 states and UTs by 2023. Tata Motors has already set up stations in Delhi, Noida and Gurugram.
The Z Connect app makes it easy for Nexon drivers to find any one of these. It also updates them on the range, security and battery charge of their car. Although companies such as Tata Motors and Hyundai have a well-established national dealership network, MG Motors doesn’t.
Mohammed Nizamuddin who bought an EV from MG bemoans the fact that the company has no service centres in India to match the competition. The government has stepped in to help.
The forward-looking Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, has allotted Rs 10,000 crore to Phase II of the Faster Adoption & Manufacturing of (Hybrid) & Electric Vehicles in India scheme.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal launched the ‘Switch Delhi’ campaign; the state will only purchase EVs as official transport, which would comprise one-fourth of all vehicles sold in Delhi by 2024. Buying an electric car will also get you a road tax discount of Rs 1.5 lakh.
Innovations are driving the need
However, charging a dry battery will take hours depending on the type and availability of charging stations. Jaipur-based electronics engineer Aakash Kaushal hit on a solution. He had driven his Tata Nexon EV around 1,500 km from Jaipur to the battle-famous Longewala and back, along the western border.
His trip reportedly took just over four days. To get over the shortage of charging points, Kaushal used the earthing technique to juice up his battery. In the end, the trip made him money—he created an EV travel charging kit for long road trips for Rs 9,878 (available at the Aha3D website).
Kaushal estimated that his round trip from Jaipur to Longewala would have taken about 100 ltrs of petrol with an average mileage of 15 km per ltr. Supposing a litre costs Rs 90, he would have paid Rs 9,000 just on fuel.
The Tata Nexon takes 200 units of electricity to charge at Rs 7 per unit. The trip, therefore, cost Kaushal only Rs 1,400 in fuel. Since some charging points gave their electricity for free, the expense was reduced to approximately about Rs 800. The Tesla Model Y Long Range’s battery range is around 508 km. The big players are not the only ones who have taken the electric route.
A long line of startups is powering India’s EV dream of cheaper and better cars. Last December, Bengaluru-based startup Pravaig Dynamics unveiled the Extinction MKI luxury two-door electric coupe that can do 504 km on a single battery range. Its 96kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides a top speed of 196kmph, reaching zero to 100kmph in just 5.4 seconds.
“Given the massive expansion in EVs, policymakers, private investors and regulators must step up and deliver the growing electricity demand of such cars. Charging EVs during peak hours is a concern right now but sound storage backups could address this issue,” advises Saurabh Gupta, the owner of a newly purchased Mahindra eVerito.
Convert your existing car into an EV
The ‘Made in India’ torque has pushed many Indian entrepreneurs to convert ICEs into EVs. Electric automobile solutions companies such as ETrio in Hyderabad and Bengaluru-based Altigreen will turn your gas-guzzler into a green lantern. To woo the middle-class car market, ETrio converts Maruti Alto and Dzire into electric cars with a battery range of upto 150 km on a single charge.
It costs Rs 4 lakh per kit. Altigreen creates hybrids of conventional cars—the Altigreen HyPixi is a four-wheeler electric plug-in car, which does not need an external charge. It has an improved mileage of 25 percent using regenerative braking, intelligent 48V charging and electric assist. The kit costs between Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000.
Delhi’s Folks Motor claims to be India’s first hybrid-electric retrofit car company and boasts of its ability to convert any manual car into a hybrid for Rs 1-2 lakh.
Why hybrids also make sense
The harbinger to the electric car’s arrival was the hybrid automobile. Sameer Gupta, Assistant Manager at Guardian India Operations Private Limited, owns a seven-seater Maruti Suzuki XL6, an SUV sporting a petrol-hybrid engine. He bought it for Rs 14 lakh (on-road), and insists that the features alone make it worth buying.
“The smart hybrid technology ensures the car is fuel-efficient, and environment-friendly,” he explains. “Besides, it has a five-speed manual gearbox with four-speed automatic speed control. In Delhi/NCR, petrol and hybrid cars have a 15-year road life and a diesel car has about 10. Last but not the least, the car is comfortable for long-haul drives.
The cruise control makes the ride smoother. Pretty neat, according to me,” says Gupta, who loves his XL6’s cabin space and plush interiors. Unlike EVs, a Hybrid car generates power from both its lithium-ion battery and conventional fuel. Its engine charges its battery, while the electric motor gives it drive.
With Parallel Hybrid Cars, both electric motor and ICE alternate to generate more power while reducing fuel. It is the electric motor that primarily powers Series Hybrid Cars.
The electric motor of a two-mode hybrid car is the main propellant and uses the engine’s hp to boost high-speed driving. Plug-in hybrid cars have a large externally rechargeable battery for an all-electric drive for shorter distances and preserves petrol or diesel for longer trips. It’s cheaper to operate and brings down fuel costs.
“My car is so fuel-efficient that the petrol bill has come down by more than half. It practically runs on its battery,” says senior advocate Rebecca John, who owns a Toyota Camry hybrid.
EVs politically correct?
The story behind India’s first classic car having been transformed into a zero-emission EV revolved around a grandfather’s concern. The vehicle was a vintage 1948 Volkswagen Beetle belonging to Major (Retd) Manjit Rajain, chairman of the Tenon Group that hit the road in February 2021. The former soldier had realised that the war against pollution in smog-choked Delhi had to be fought in all seriousness. He reached out to Mohammed Jawaad Khan, an engineer from Jammu and founder of Tadpole Projects, a startup that converts internal combustion vehicles into electric cars. All it cost Rajain was Rs 4 lakh.
The car industry is one of the most polluting sectors in the world. Diesel vehicles cause 66 percent air pollution-related deaths in India. Of the world’s 3.8 lakh automobile pollution-related deaths in 2015, 74,000 were in Indian. In the US, 25 percent of cars pollute 90 percent of air.
Of the carbon dioxide emissions in the EU 30 percent comes from transportation, of which 72 percent is from road transportation. CarbonBrief environmental website’s data reveals that EVs produce dramatically lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional vehicles.
But in India, whose electricity is powered by coal, EVs cannot make that much difference The road to a cleaner and better future is not free of potholes. But it is certain that the future of EVs is fully charged to go the distance.
Buying an electric car will also get you a road tax discount of Rs 1.5 lakh.
The minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, allotted Rs 10,000 crore to Phase II of the Faster Adoption & Manufacturing of (Hybrid) & Electric Vehicles in India (FAME) scheme
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal launched the ‘Switch Delhi’ campaign. the state will only purchase EVs, which according to the projection will comprise one-fourth of all vehicles sold in Delhi by 2024.
The central government has ordered builders to set aside 20 percent of parking space for EVs in all residential and office projects
The Indian government plans to set up 2,636 electric vehicle charging stations in 62 cities across 24 states and union territories by 2023
The Voltage of Two
Two-wheeler electric segment is projected to boom. There appears to be greater room for growth with expanding demand coming from Tier-II cities. Startups are playing their part, too. Silicon Valley-returned brothers Sachin and Vishal Chopra, who earned their MBAs from Wharton, founded AlphaVector in Mumbai and launched their first e-bicycle—Meraki by Ninety One which they claim is “100 percent indigenously designed and engineered in India”.
Bengaluru-based Suhas Rajkumar’s Simple Energy hopes to launch electric scooters only the batteries will be outsourced. Mumbai’s Earth Energy Evolve R has a battery range of 110 km and a top speed of 110 kmph—the startup has rolled out three EVs from its garage—the Glyde+electric scooter, Evolve Z and Evolve R.
“Electric vehicles, especially the two-wheeler segment, have caused a massive disruption in the automobiles market. Youngsters are driving the change towards environmentally safe vehicles.
They’re conscious about the need for clean energy. With the pandemic-led scare in travelling by pubic transport, and rising fuel prices, the demand for electric two-wheelers has gone through the roof. And why not, when a petrol scooter eats up Rs 100 for a 50 km ride, whereas with an electric scooter, you can ride 100 km for just Rs 4.5. They are the future.”
Colonel Ajay Ahlawat, Founder and owner, Evolet—an EV startup
“The smart hybrid technology behind my XL6 makes it fuel-efficient, and environment-friendly. It’s got a five-speed manual gearbox with a four-speed automatic speed control. Also, in Delhi/NCR a petrol/hybrid car has a 15-year life, whereas a diesel car has about 10.” Sameer Gupta, Assistant Manager, Guardian India Operations Pvt Ltd.
Why should you choose one
Better for the environment
Cheaper engine maintenance
The quietness of the vehicle
“I don’t have to pay road tax. Secondly, there is no maintenance cost (He wons a Tata Nexon EV). I also don’t need to go for periodic filter changes or engine oil changes. I spend around Rs 900 to recharge the car in a month, which is lesser than what I would have spent on petrol.”
Manoj Nair, Kerala
“It is (Toyota Camry hybrid) so fuel-efficient that my gas bill has come down by more than half. It practically runs on the battery.” Rebecca John, senior advocate
Expert battery advice
Maintain the EV’s battery charge at between 20 percent and 80 percent. It would deteriorate with constant full charges.
Extreme temperatures affect the battery
Do not leave the battery at a low charging state for an extended time
Electric cars have become a conscious choice for many buyers. Automobile companies are looking at India as a big EV market. New models have been launched even during the pandemic. Is it time to change your driving habits?
Some inputs are courtesy ‘The Better India’