India’s Journey Towards Electrifying Automobiles

Spike Narayan-

Spike Narayan

Spike Narayan is a seasoned hi-tech executive managing exploratory research in science and technology at IBM.

Electrifying transportation has been a topic of discussion for decades and has long been the holy grail for technophiles. India is likely to be playing a major role in the transition to electric cars. The first mode of transportation to switch to electric motors was the railroad which has now been firmly adopted across much of the globe. Along with trains and other trains like transports, the tram, light rail, or trolleys were easy to electrify decades ago.

Growing up in Calcutta in the 70s I recall the trams were already electric having been operational there from, as early as, 1902. The trolleys (cable cars) in San Francisco were installed merely 15 years before that. Electric trams were commonplace across most major cities across the world. However, since then other modes of transportation have struggled to make that switch. Trains, trams, and subways were easy to electrify because they followed a fixed path where the rails and electric power lines could be laid down. Other forms of transportation were far more complicated and could not be easily electrified because electrical energy could not be stored in batteries at scale.

The enablement of electric vehicles became a topic of discussion again in the last two decades due to two big drivers. One, was that battery technology started to mature and two, the issue of global warming or climate change started getting traction across much of the world and electrifying transportation was seen as a key pathway to reducing our carbon footprint. Geopolitical tensions centered around petroleum products further accelerated battery technology development.

Well before electric cars made a real start in the US, India had already started making and selling all-electric (not hybrid) cars running on traditional lead-acid batteries. Mahindra Electric Mobility Limited, formerly known as the Reva Electric Car Company, is an Indian company based in Bangalore, involved in designing and manufacturing compact electric vehicles and produced their first commercial car called Reva in 1994.

Their range was rather limited but was still adequate for folks to run errands around town in Bangalore. It was a sedan and not just a souped-up golf cart. I have fond memories of riding in one in the mid-1990s and being quite impressed. The rather heavy batteries really prevented the scaling of range even though the cost was on their side. What was really noteworthy was that India was already showing an appetite for electric cars when the rest of the western world was not yet in the game.

It must be noted that in 1996 General Motors introduced the all-electric EV1 but it never made the cut for political reasons and pushback from the petroleum industry. The real reason though was that there was no public pull for this technology. The electrification in the US started with hybrids where a small battery coupled with regeneration during braking started boosting the range of gasoline cars and the Toyota Prius monopolized that market starting in 1997. It was 13 later that Nissan introduced the all-electric Nissan Leaf in Japan and in the US. Another 10 years later the transition to and adoption of all-electric cars seems closer to reality all across the globe.

Most car companies now have an aggressive agenda to electrify their fleet. Here are two examples.  Volvo’s roadmap has them targeting 50% of their auto sales volume to be electric by 2025 and having 1 million electric cars on the roads by 2025. GM is introducing the Ultium platform for EVs and plans to go all-electric by 2035. Every other auto company has similar aggressive electrification plans. There are a few companies like Tesla that were born electric and already have a significant market share. As of today, there are 22 different electric cars for sale in India with prices ranging from just under 10 Lakhs to over 1.5 Crores. The lowest cost offering is the Tata Tiago EV while the models from Mercedes Benz, Audi and Porche sell for over 1 Crore rupees. India has one of the fastest growing battery electric vehicle (BEV) markets in the world. The first half of 2022 saw India register the highest ever half-yearly battery electric vehicle sales. Over 20,000 units were sold. June 2022 is now the all-time best sales month, with 4,451 Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) registered. The Indian BEV market is dominated by Tata Motors, which has a 92% market share. The Tata Nexon EV is the best-selling product, followed by the Tata Tigor EV. According to a recent Hindustan Times article the electric vehicle market is expected to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 49% between 2021 and 2030 and the EV segment’s sales volume could hit 17 million cars by 2030. These are astounding numbers by any standards and will be world-leading if these predictions come true. Factors contributing to these eye-popping statistics may be the aggressive hikes in petrol prices and subsidies from central and state governments. If new emission standards are implemented, that can fuel even more growth. Recent surveys indicate that China and India will lead the world in appetite for BEVs for the next 3 years with Brazil, Germany and France take the next three spots and with the US coming in 6th for BEV adoption likelihood globally.

In summary, India is poised to lead the world in the desire to electrify its personal transportation. There is the will to go carbon-free and if production can keep up with demand and there is, in parallel, progress in the installation of charging infrastructure, India could surpass China in BEV units sold before 2030.








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