India Drives Toward Electric Vehicle Goals

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Automotive, Green

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Like “electricity for all,” the Indian government’s latest ambitious plan is for a complete transformation of its auto segment and move towards all electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030.

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Toward this goal, the government has started making the right moves, but the question on every one’s mind is simple: Is the plan possible?

The political will is there, but to have all vehicles on the road running on battery by 2030 seems like a pretty impossible dream.

Nitin Gadkari, India’s road transport minister, made the government’s intentions clear, rather forcefully, when he said recently, “We should move towards alternative fuel … I am going to do this, whether you like it or not.” He was addressing delegates of India’s automobile lobby group, SIAM. Gadkari made it clear he would “bulldoze the plan through.”

It’s really all about numbers, say the experts. After all, how does a country of over 1 billion people, where over 20 million vehicles are sold annually, embark on such an ambitious drive?

The reasons for the transformation are many, but the most important one is the fact that India is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement, and is obliged to bring down its share of global emissions by 2030 — so it’s doing its damnedest in that direction.

The fact is that for now, there is only one Indian company that makes electric cars, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. It recently launched the Mahindra e2o Plus City Smart, which comes at a pretty hefty price tag compared to cars run on fossil fuel. On a full charge, it can travel for up to 140 kilometers and can achieve a top speed of 85 km/h.

But Mahindra seems optimistic. The company is of the opinion that its own small, limited-range electric cars were already on the brink of profitability today—and it plans to fully embrace battery-electric cars moving forward.

Chairman Anand Mahindra, while speaking in New York at the Bloomberg Global Forum, said they had been “believers” for a while, and may have not been making any money, but now the tipping point seems to have been reached.

Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, has already struck one partnership last week with Ford Motor Co. to cooperate in areas including electric and driverless autos, and is said to be looking out for a JV partner in China. The latter, incidentally, is poised to become the largest market seeking the phasing out of the internal combustion engine.

The move to electric vehicles is greeted with skepticism because it will also require great combined efforts on part of the government, the private sector and the public.

In 2015, the Indian government launched the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles scheme, which failed to take off. Now, the Modi government is scheduled to roll out a national policy for electric vehicles by December  of this year, setting the standards and specifications for the vehicles and provide guidelines to incentivize their use.

Will it be successful the second time around? Will it be able to attract EV makers like Elon Musk, who has already reportedly initiated preliminary talks with the government to enter India?

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Continue to watch this space for the answer.

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