The safety aspect in case of electric vehicles is paramount after the spate of fire incident earlier in the summer. India, often envisioned as an EV manufacturing hub of future, is taking slow but steady steps to enhance product quality and customer safety. As part of its efforts to promote EV safety, the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) came out with stricter standards for battery safety. This will be implemented in a phase wise manner and Phase I gets underway from December 1.
While the industry welcomed the new standards, the lack of broad based consultation and short timeline may not augur well for stakeholders. It is important to note that AIS 156 Amendment 1 was in use till August 2022, the Amendment 2 came in end-August causing widespread confusion in the industry and within 3 weeks, amendment 3 was again released that will come into effect in two phases – December 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023.
For the unversed the AIS 156 standard is implemented for batteries and electric two- and three-wheelers, while the AIS 038 Rev.2 for electric vehicles (passenger and cargo) with four-wheels and above.
Timing remains a case of concern
The cause of concern however for the auto industry is that while meeting Phase 1 is not a problem, the stringent requirements for Phase 2 will “need design level changes at the core of the battery pack. Various stages including R&D, prototyping, sufficient testing, and validation will require more time before we can take them towards certification and manufacturing. Rushing this process could prove to be counterproductive to the main aim of making the batteries safer and could actually result in further incidents,” says Gautham Maheswaran, Co-Founder and CTO, RACEnergy.
Uday Narang, Founder & Chairman, Omega Seiki Mobility echoes a similar view “the only problem is the immediate cut-off dates that has been established. We have been testing these vehicles for more than what is being asked by the approval agencies for which we are sure of clearing any such hurdles. But, with the cut-off date so near that even the battery manufacturers are finding it difficult to clear the certificates before that. Getting the whole vehicle approved within the limited period will always be a challenge.”
The flip side is “this will eliminate low-quality battery manufacture. Manufacturers that are strong in R&D and design will remain. More than 50 percent of the battery manufacturers will not exist in the market after the Phase I and Phase II implementation of AIS Amendment 3. This’ll also reduce the number of thermal (or fire) incidents related to EV in the market which will provide customers more confidence to buy electric vehicles,” shares Anand Kabra, Vice Chairman & MD, Kabra Extrusiontechnik.
A few industry stakeholders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that the “challenge for them is to ensure proper and extensive testing for batteries and vehicles before getting it certified, a six month deadline (even in two parts) is too less for any good product to be tested thoroughly.”
One of the biggest case of concern is the timely availability of testing, evaluating and certification for the batteries. “It takes upto 6-8 months of proper R&D and internal and third-party testing to be done for a change of this magnitude. The industry is expected to make the changes and get them certified in just six months. How is it possible to accelerate the testing? While we are happy and welcome the norms, the timeline needs to be practical,” said an industry veteran who wished not to be identified.
Added cost and sourcing
Another aspect that has not been spoken much about is the increase in cost. “The new battery tests also come with the need for design level changes in the core of the battery module to comply with tests such as thermal propagation test and IP67 enclosure rating for the battery. These will involve costs to the battery manufacturers right from R&D, investments in tooling and fixtures to addition of new systems internally to prevent thermal propagation, leading to a marginal yet significant increase in battery costs that will ripple down to the end EV cost to the customer,” says Maheswaran.
OSM’s Narang expects a cost escalation of at least 5 percent due to the new norms.
Kabra breaks the added cost in two major parts – “raw material aspect and the other in the capital investment aspect, including testing machines and automation related to battery manufacturing. There will be several changes in the battery manufacturing and testing processes, as well as the validation process. So, there’ll be added costs for new machines for battery manufacturing validation and testing. All good battery manufacturers will have their own internal testing labs. Battrixx is already developing its own AIS 156 or 100% test facility in-house. We already have 60-70% testing facilities in-house and will be creating more such facilities and that will add to the costs.”
Battery Smart’s Pulkit Khurana believes that there will be “only marginal cost impacts at scale to transition to the new standards. At the end of the day, customer safety is paramount to EV adoption and these new regulations are very beneficial as they ensure products are safer and more reliable.”
Tork Motors Kapil Shelke says that they have designed their proprietary 4kWh Tork Liion Battery from scratch considering the extreme scenarios. “We test all battery packs for a minimum of 100 km before delivering the motorcycle to customers. We do not foresee a major cost escalation, as it includes minor alterations for us to fully adhere to the new norms. We aim to adapt the new norms by phase 2, considering the long waiting period for testing and certifications.”
All-in-all, it is imperative a close cooperation between government, regulatory bodies and industry is important to drive faster adoption of electric vehicles. While the timeline for Phase 1 is achievable, the Phase 2 will require significant acceleration both at company as well as testing agencies level. The general consensus is that an extension along with a medium-term guidelines would further help the automotive industry.