Electric-vehicle revolution: India is ahead of China but not because of electric cars

India has surpassed China in terms of the number of electric vehicles running on its roads. However, electric cars and electric two-wheelers so far do not contribute much to this EV revolution.

By:Updated: Nov 05, 2018 11:26 AM
E-rickshaws at a rikshaw stand in New Delhi (Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Electric vehicle revolution is gaining a stronger ground in India and now, a Bloomberg report says that the country has surpassed China in terms of the number EVs in use currently. The revolution, however, is not spearheaded by electric cars or electric two-wheelers. An electric alternative to pedal-driven rickshaws is helping rickshaw pullers avoid fatigue and contribute to clean mobility in the country. India is now home to about 1.5 million battery-powered three-wheeled rickshaws, which is well above the total number of electric passenger cars sold in China since 2011.

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While car and two-wheeler manufacturers are introducing new electric versions of their otherwise combustion-engined vehicles in India, the e-movement is currently lacking buyers’ faith. There are also firms like Magenta Power which are installing fast-charging stations around Mumbai, but the shift from fossil fuel power to electricity will take a huge investment of time and money.

For a rickshaw driver, however, electric three-wheelers are proving beneficial. They are faster, easy and more affordable to maintain, and don’t require pedalling all day long. All of this translates to more trips and hence it is also more profitable.

As many as 11,000 new e-rickshaws hit the streets every month, and annual sales are expected to increase about 9 percent by 2021, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Three-wheeled vehicles make up a $1.5 billion market, and manufacturers of electric versions include Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and Kinetic Engineering Ltd., along with smaller outfits that assemble parts imported from China.

Ola to join e-rickshaw boom: Ride-hailing startup Ola is rather dominant in India and is now planning to add 10,000 e-rickshaws to its fleet by April 2019.

What is the future of electric mobility in India?

The concept of owning an electric car has so far been a flop in India. If the total number of electric cars was to be considered, China has about 1.35 million passenger EVs plying its road compared to India’s tiny 6,000.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is now working to push EV adaptation in the country through public transport and fleet operations. Also, the Ministry of Finance is finalising a plan to spend about Rs 40 billion ($600 million) in the next five years on charging infrastructure and subsidize e-buses.

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Tata Motors has been working on electric versions of its cars like Tiago and Tigor, which was also showcased during 2018 Auto Expo. Also, Maruti Suzuki has now started testing its very first electric car which is slated to go on sale by 2020.

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