It was not long ago when there were questions on the viability of autonomous and electric vehicles in India, especially in the backdrop of insufficient infrastructure and lack of favorable policies. However, things seem to be changing rapidly now. 2021 seems to be the year that may witness an upward trajectory in the market for autonomous vehicles and EVs. There are several reasons for a positive outlook despite 2020 being the year when growth in the EV market slowed globally, largely due to the pandemic-induced lockdown. Irrespective of its smaller share of autonomous and EVs in the Indian market, the government is betting big on the sector. But, how?
The Road to the Future
At present, EVs represent less than one per cent of the total vehicle sales in India. The industry body SMEV projects it to become five per cent a few years down the line. However, if we take the on-ground developments into consideration, it could happen sooner than expected.
In a big push for the sector, the union minister for road, transport, and highways Nitin Gadkari in November 2020 had announced that the government will be setting up at least one EV charging kiosk at each of the 69,000 petrol pumps across the country.
The government has previously formulated favorable plans for EV adoption including the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (FAME) Scheme, loan subventions, and income tax rebates alongside similar relaxations on the state-level. More state governments are coming up with incentives to prompt people to go with EVs.
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At the same time, we are witnessing the participation of more players within the segment. Now, with the latest buzz around Tesla which is setting up a manufacturing unit in the country, there is a renewed momentum within the sector. Tesla Model 3 has seen considerable tractions across global markets including the U.S. and China. Its luxury brand status adds to popularity. The foray of Tesla in India will also increase the competitiveness within the segment and make EVs more accessible to people. With the right mix of such hype and incentives, we might witness EVs becoming more popular.
The Indian automotive segment has also taken the first step towards its autonomous future. Last year, the Indian automotive market had welcomed MG Motor’s Gloster, the country’s first autonomous (Level 1) premium SUV with Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). Autonomous vehicles use artificial intelligence and logistics 4.0 technologies for offering a safe, auto-driving experience to people.
The future of autonomous and electric vehicles is being marked with cleaner and quicker transport, accelerating much-needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the transport sector. Considering a country like India, where there is a high dependency on oil imports and pollution remains a challenge, autonomous vehicles and EVs offer a one-way solution for two major problems.
Challenges for Autonomous Vehicles and EVs in India
While the government’s ambitions with regard to EVs are pretty clear and globally leading players continue to jump in, there are still challenges that need to be addressed for pushing sales of autonomous vehicles and EVs. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, there is an apprehension of job losses. Even though companies like the MG have highlighted that in their autonomous models, drivers will remain responsible for safe, vigilant, and attentive driving, the system will play an assistive role.
Another roadblock for autonomous vehicles and EVs in India is the poor road and advanced logistics infrastructure. However, the government is also driving much-needed measures to upgrade the infrastructure. Last year, an EV delegation was flagged off from India Gate as a part of the #NHforEV2020 Tech Trial Run. The delegation had to test the viability of Yamuna Expressway as an e-corridor and successfully concluded its trial run at Agra. At the same time, the Smart City infrastructure is also expanding across the country, something that will also assist the autonomous vehicle and EV segment. Other major concerns that cloud AVs are the apportionment of liability and the issue of privacy.
This means that India will need dedicated guidelines for safety assurance systems, and a well-thought-out plan for operations of AVs in India. With cars using a large volume of personal data, it would require protection under privacy laws. These concerns need to be addressed for instilling confidence in buyers with regard to the technology.
By resolving these issues, we can ensure that the future of both autonomous vehicles and EVs in India is bright.
Author: Gaurav Patra, Founder, Value360 Communications