Time to plug in?

Nov 24 2012, 02:46 IST
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SummaryElectric cars and two-wheelers are very much in the global limelight today, but does it make sense for us here at home as well? A closer look will remind us not to jump the gun.

Electric cars haven’t been able to make a mark in the Indian market, and major manufacturers are still not excited about bringing these to India. But, in a power-deficient country like ours, does it really make sense to own an electric car, or are hybrids the answer?

Electric cars and two-wheelers are very much in the global limelight today, but does it make sense for us here at home as well? A closer look will remind us not to jump the gun.

What is very clear is that India needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels—today, about 80% of our crude oil needs are imported, pushing up the current account deficit. Oil imports particularly get more expensive when the rupee weakens against the dollar and a focus on electric/hybrid cars may initially save as much as R30,000 crore a year, as per official estimates.

But, in a country that does not have electricity either, could electric hybrids and not pure electric cars be a better idea? At a national level, India faces a peak power deficiency of 13%, while the voltage is not constant and power outages are common. Charging pure electric cars is thus an obvious challenge and the situation is not likely to change over the next 4-5 years either—the 12th Five-Year Plan aims to add 80,000 MW to the current 2 lakh MW capacity, but this may just remain numbers on paper, given the myriad challenges of fuel availability (gas, coal), land acquisition and environment/forest clearances. This means an additional investment (about R80,000) on solar panels for charging.

There are definitely many benefits of electric cars—they hardly pollute since they are zero-emission vehicles and need far less lubricating oils. They are also quieter, more reliable and cheaper to own, owing to far lower maintenance costs—as compared to an internal combustion engine, the electric motor has far less moving parts. Plus, the torque delivery is much quicker and more linear—what that means is the pick-up will be almost instant to 60 kmph from 0, versus a petrol/diesel car.

In the US, there is the Chevrolet Volt hybrid and the Focus and C-Max electrics from the Ford stable. The Japanese also have a lead in electric technology—the Toyota Prius was reported as the third most sold car globally for the first three months of 2012, while Nissan’s Leaf did well at least initially after its 2011 launch. Though electric cars remind us of

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