Delhi is the most polluted city in the world. In fact, India is one of the world’s most polluted countries. The pollution contributes to some 1.2 million deaths a year in the country. Industrial pollution, fire and smoke from crop burning and heating, and vehicle emissions are responsible for the majority of the pollution that plagues the country. Even though nearly 90% of Indians don’t own cars, poor road infrastructure leads to traffic congestion. Slow-moving and idling vehicles produces up to eight times more pollutants than free-flowing traffic. In attempts to counter this problem, India’s energy department set a goal to only sell electric-powered vehicles by the year 2030. But, is this goal too ambitious? We spoke to Quantified Commerce, an Indian vertically-integrated company, on the reality of this goal.
There are currently about 200 million registered vehicles in India, out of those only 1% are electric. However, everyday some 50,000 fuel engine vehicles are registered per day. So, it’s highly unlikely that internal combustion engines would be off the road in India anytime soon. But, if the energy department plans to push to 2030 stay on track, India could see some 34 million electric vehicles, including scooters and motorcycles, on the road by 2040.
However, at the moment India lacks the proper infrastructure to keep those millions of electric vehicles running. The road infrastructure is already shoddy as is, but so is India’s electric infrastructure. Perhaps before the government takes such an initiative to push electric-powered vehicles, they should solve the problem of a quarter of Indians living without electricity themselves. India is currently working on a $2.5 billion to bring electricity to those people.
That would need to be established before the government can even think of adding charging stations in those areas. What good are electric vehicles if they run out of juice with no charging station in sight? “That, perhaps, is the biggest gap before electric vehicles can take off,” says Pawan Goenka, managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra. They are currently the only company that are selling electric cars directly to consumers. “When there are more players, more choices, the segment itself will grow,” he added.
But there is no clear strategy in place as to how the government plans on achieving that lofty 2030 goal. It already missed a deadline to have an electric vehicle policy in place by the end of 2017. This lack of direction has caused many car manufacturers to put plans any electric vehicle plans on hold until further instruction.
“One [thing to address] would obviously be infrastructure – how the charging infrastructure will develop. Second is manufacturing – how they want to support the manufacturing of EV components and EV systems in India. Third is two-three years of stable policy on taxation,” said Mahesh Babu, CEO of Mahindra Electric.
But another important thing that the government needs to address is the personal-vehicle owner. “Lots of people India, small-car owners, do not have facilities at home to charge their cars, What should they do?” asked RC Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki.
The 2030 goal may be too ambitious for the private car owner, since the Indian middle class is still growing and can’t even afford a used old four-wheel fuel engine. The majority of Indians still rely on public transportation, the biggest and most reasonable push for electric-powered vehicles should be with buses.
India’s first fully-electric bus was launched in 2014 in Bangalore. It takes about five hours to charge and can run about 250 km on a single charge, which is more than adequate for the short commutes into the major cities. Electric buses are the place where we are seeing tangible progress in the electric vehicle push. Tata Motors and Goldstone are pumping in investments into bus-making facilities.
“It’s obviously an amicable push on the government’s part,” says Agam Berry, co-founder of Quantified Commerce. “However, clear direction needs to be established, otherwise the 2030 goal is just a pipedream.”
Perhaps before going fully electric, some other alternatives should be considered. “We are also currently investing in greener approaches to our distribution. We plan on switching to CNG fuel vehicles, for our middle-mile trucks, which connect cities, and we’re looking at using e-rickshaws, which are electric for the last-mile distribution to the customer’s door.,” Berry says.
People from around the world associate India with rickshaws. So why not use the mode of transportation India is most associated with for environmentally sound last-mile delivery? “India has always found it’s own way to solve problems, and rickshaws are a great solution,” Berry says. “They cost almost nothing to run them, and we break even on the initial cost after three to four months. This is both great for the businesses and consumers, and it’s also great for the planet.”