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Why Electric Cars Still Remain A Concept In India

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Electric Vehicles seem to be a distant dream in India. The concept itself seems to be stuck in limbo with only 3,800 vehicles selling over the last 10 years. While manufacturers such as the Mahindra Reva and Hero have been lobbying for subsidies, from the government, it has not yet resulted in mass acceptance. Yes, blame it on the infrastructure which none of them have been able to scale up. To add to this, the vehicles are expensive. But should it be sold as a mass vehicle at all?

Although the cost of ownership is only 0.30 paise per kilometre, when compared to Rs 2 per litre for a gasoline vehicle, bad battery life and odd designs makes it a difficult proposition to sell as a mass product. Yet the electric vehicle industry is a very important segment that the Indian government cannot ignore and it needs to speed up its activity beyond the fast adoption of manufacturing electric vehicles (FAME) policy which has earmarked more than  Rs 100 crore to support manufacturers. Are we late?
 
The USA is well on its way to selling a million electric vehicles by the end of the decade thanks to hybrid vehicles such as the General Motors Volt and the Toyota Prius. Nissan Motors too has chosen an all electric strategy with their electric vehicle Leaf. It sells close to 60,000 units, on an average, in the USA. Tesla, owned by Elon Musk, had made an enormous impact with the rich and famous. "The Indian government has brought back subsidies again and it will help the industry," says Chetan Maini, board member and founder of Mahindra Reva. A few corporates like SAP have set up charging stations in their offices. There needs to be a consensus and that consensus can come only from a corporate employee. "Electric Vehicles are a big strategy for us and it is clearly they way forward. But in the next 15 years, 85 per cent of the world will run on gasoline vehicles," says Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of the Renault Nissan Alliance.
 
It used to be a game for big brands who spend billions of dollars on selling their electric vehicles.

But not anymore.
 
A young startup called Ather,  from Bangalore, has raised $12 million from Tiger Global, just on a product idea alone, to build a electric scooter that can beat all existing parameters of running a electric vehicle. However the beauty is that the startup will focus on a niche market to win consumers, which means people who care about the environment and want to live a sporty life. It's founders Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain are building a electric vehicle that will go at 75 km per hour and will charge 4x faster than the the 8 hour charge of other regular electric vehicles. Their battery is also being built to last for more than five years. Currently, only Reva's battery lasts that long. "The product is in concept stage and tests have show us that our product which will go after people who love environment and connected rides," says Tarun Mehta, founder of Ather. 
 
Ather is also going to launch an entire connected vehicle platform that will allow users to engage their vehicles through smart phones. For example, the vehicle will allow users to be engaged on the retail side to help customers ride their vehicle better, which Chetan Maini has also installed on the Reva. The customer's safety is also tracked through the life cycle along with predictive maintenance. So Indian EVs have a life after all and much more must be done to get them going.
 
However, there aren't such product start ups in India like Ather. The government now offers a 25 per cent subsidy on the purchase of an electric vehicle. Electric vehicles have never been a hit because of the lack of political will in setting up infrastructure across the country. However, the Mahindras are building a strategy to increase the number of charging units in Bangalore to 100 and later increase it across the country. Let us hope there are buyers beyond the few people who bought EVs  as a way of life. We are a nation that can certainly accommodate 2 million EV users in the next 15 years.