By Arihant Mehta
India’s commercial vehicle category is nothing short of a paradox. A season of favourable truck and tractor sales is a harbinger of good fortune; whereas a strict implementation of scrappage policies to adhere to emission norms is frowned upon. Although the sector has been in a state of constant flux ever since Daimler Benz introduced the first set of trucks in the country in the 1950s, the new electric opportunity presents itself as a compelling overhaul.
From Indira point (also known as Pygmalion Point) on Nicobar Island, to Indira Col in Jammu, and from Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh to Ghuar Moti in the Kutch district of Gujarat, commercial transportation touches a billion lives. Nearly 3 million trucks run 100 billion kilometres every year transporting everything from perishable goods such as onions or cakes, to e-commerce goods, medicines, military equipment, ration, and everything we could think of. India’s transportation sector which is reminiscent of over-loaded trucks could be a thing of the past, given the rise of electric and hydrogen-fuelled trucks could overhaul the CV (Commercial vehicle) sector.
Need for alternate fuels
Ten years ago, a United States study compared the efficiency of electric and diesel trucks, concluding the former was 30 percent more energy-efficient and 40 percent more environment-friendly. Electric trucks could easily enable two objectives for India, which according to an OICA report is the world’s fifth-largest producer of CVs after the USA, China, Canada, and Japan. First, innovations in the CV segment can help control emission norms and second – electric cars were far more efficient compared to diesel-fuelled variants.
14% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the transportation sector alone. After the power-generation sector which is majorly coal-reliant, the transportation sector and manufacturing industries, have a lot to offer in meeting India’s climate pledge. And, unfortunately, even meeting stringent Euro zone policies is insufficient to control pollution. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the implementation of the BS VI policy the average CO2 emission for LCVs stood at 149.5 gm/km as of 2020-21. Compared to Diesel, CNG has significantly reduced emissions with studies estimating CNG-fuelled vehicles with 50% less carbon monoxide (CO), up to 90% less particulate matter (PM), and up to 25% fewer greenhouse gases.
With electric trucks, the tail-pipe emissions are rated at Zero! A Niti Aayog report published in September 2022 found that India could launch the world’s biggest decarbonisation measure. Zero Emission trucks powered by electric and hydrogen-powered (environment-friendly not produced from coal or natural gas) trucks, the study found could cumulatively mitigate 2.8 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2022 and 2050. Going electric could also help the country avert costly fuel imports.
Engineering marvel needed
Electrification is the need of the hour given several reports including the Niti Aayog report finds an impressive cost benefit for fleet operators. Besides, the adoption of electric trucks in countries such as Norway and China are encouraging steps. Countries such as France have vowed to go completely electric. However, given the sheer size of India’s CV sector electrification of trucks cannot be a plug-and-play component. For beginners, unlike a CNG kit which can be fixed onto a car, a Commercial Vehicle cannot be electrified with a simple component. To manufacturers, an electric model may be impractical unless it resolves two objectives.
The first objective on the minds of a CV designer is the reconsideration of the pay-load. Most manufacturers adhere to a rated load or capacity of weight that a truck could ferry. But, keeping in mind the Indian business sense, several manufacturers incorporate additional load by ten to fifteen percent. This means that a vehicle that should have ideally operated at a load of 4 tons may carry an additional hundred kilos of load without any fuss. Adding a heavy electric battery pack to an existing truck model not only alters the load capacity but could also shift the centre of gravity. A truck with a dislocated centre of gravity is a grave danger on the road. Secondly, a redesign could also involve adding aesthetics and features such as – air-conditioned cabins, adjustments for air suspension, and the ability to be tethered to multiple charging infrastructures.
The Big opportunity
Despite the pros and cons of electric vehicles, CV manufacturers have an undue advantage. There is industry buzz around carbon credits and the government’s focus on decarbonisation of the transportation sector. Although manufacturing electric trucks may seem expensive, innovative solutions and economies of scale would propel e-CVs at competitive prices. The question is not about the Indian CV industry’s ability to find new technologies to cut down on emissions but a matter of timing.
The author is the President of Pinnacle Industries.
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