Electric vehicles (EV) are being dubbed the future of mobility, with the government having put a target of 2030 by when it wants the country to completely shift to selling EVs. Many car makers have eagerly joined the race, the latest being the number one passenger car seller in India, Maruti Suzuki. However, most two-wheeler manufacturers in the country are sceptical of the hype. Eric Vas, president, motorcycle business, Bajaj Auto, says the primary issue with electric vehicles is their expense. “The biggest problem is the economics, which is why they rely too heavily on subsidies. Even today we have electric cars, but they don’t sell that well,” he argues. He attributes the problem to the cost of batteries used in electric vehicles. “The fundamental issue is the cost of batteries. And the problem may not be very easy to solve,” he says. As per a new report by Niti Aayog and Rocky Mountain Institute, “India’s Energy Storage Mission: A Make-in-India Opportunity for Globally Competitive Battery Manufacturing”, the battery accounts for approximately one-third of the total purchase price of electric vehicles today.
This is after a 70% drop in price of battery packs over the last six years due to increased scale of production. Vas adds that the company has strong in-house capabilities and has been working on electric vehicle technology, but Bajaj Auto is not looking to launch an electric two-wheeler anytime soon. “We have an electric vehicle programme, but that does not mean we will launch an EV,” he adds. Another major two-wheeler maker in India, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI), believes that the current electric vehicle capabilities are not anywhere on par with the traditional internal combustion engine.
“If any electric vehicle has to replace traditional scooters, it should fulfill a customer’s expectation of charging and usage. Sadly, no technology is available that makes EVs work exactly like the current scooters,” says YS Guleria, senior vice-president of sales and marketing, HMSI. He adds, “Honda’s R&D team is working to bring the experience of an electric vehicle as close to that of a gasoline engine. Unfortunately, we have not reached that place on a commercial stage.” He attributes aspects like the battery’s life and the vehicle’s weight as the main problems that need to be addressed with respect to electric vehicles. He says, “Setting a price of around Rs 50,000 for an electric scooter is very difficult at this stage. Work is going on, but batteries have to play a bigger role in the future.”
In a recent post earnings conference call with analysts, Niranjan Gupta, chief financial officer, Hero Motocorp, declined to speak of any launches in the near future, but said in-house development is underway. The company had recently invested Rs 205 crore in the startup, Ather Energy. “We continue to have a twin-pronged strategy, which is investment in Ather and our in-house development,” says Gupta. TVS Motor declined to comment on possible plans to bring out an electric two-wheeler. However, media reports have suggested that the company is planning to launch an electric variant of TVS Jupiter by June 2018.
Currently no mainstream players have launched electric vehicles in the two-wheeler space in India. The size of the electric two-wheeler space is still very small. In the previous fiscal, a mere 23,000 units were sold in India. Hero Electric is the biggest electric two-wheeler player in the country, with a market share of around 65%. Sohinder Gill, CEO, Hero Electric says, “Other players like TVS will start entering this market from the coming June. Others will fall in line soon after that. At least for the next five years we are welcoming on-board, serious players. We are lone fighters here. The pie is big, and there is no competition.