Electric vehicles, a silent uprising

Updated: August 1, 2015 4:04:30 PM

Urban planners not only have to introduce comfortable public transport to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads, they also have to bring in and create infrastructure for more non-polluting (zero tailpipe emissions) vehicles

electric vehiclesUrban planners not only have to introduce comfortable public transport to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads, they also have to bring in and create infrastructure for more non-polluting (zero tailpipe emissions) vehicles.

There is no denying the fact that urban transport in India is in a mess and is showing signs of cracking under sustained pressure. As towns have morphed into cities and cities have transformed into metros, urban planning has failed to take the accompanying explosion in vehicular traffic into account. In Delhi, for instance, the switch to a cleaner compressed natural gas was made more than a decade ago but the city is today struggling with vehicular pollution because the rapid jump in cars, trucks and two-wheelers on the roads has negated the benefits of CNG.

Numerous reports have found a quantum jump in respiratory ailments and lung diseases, especially in children, as the city’s air has become a toxic mix of fumes and dust.

The case is no different in other major cities of the country where administrators are waking up to the perils of harmful emissions from lakhs of vehicles and are looking at alternative modes of transport to curb the menace. From metro trains to monorail and from CNG-powered public transport to even trams, planners and policy-makers are scouting for viable options. The challenge is twofold—one, to introduce large-scale modes of convenient and comfortable public transport to bring down the number of private vehicles and, two, to introduce more non-polluting (zero tailpipe emissions) vehicles for transport.

Given the need to restore ecological harmony and promote sustainable development, it is critical to tap into technology-led innovation, reduce carbon footprint of vehicular traffic and improve air quality. It is here that electric vehicles fit the bill.

The government’s new scheme—Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India or FAME—can help promote these so-called green vehicles in the country. The idea intends to support the development of hybrid/electric vehicle market and its manufacturing ecosystem to achieve self sustenance. Under FAME, the government will offer incentives on hybrid and electric vehicles of up to R29,000 for two-wheelers and Rs 1.38 lakh for cars. It will also spend a total of R795 crore in the first two years. The government aims to bring 60-70 lakh electric and hybrid vehicles on Indian roads by 2020.

The FAME scheme, which is a part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, has been launched in all major cities. It has four focus areas—technology development, demand creation, pilot projects and charging infrastructure. Reduced purchase prices will enable wider adoption of electric vehicles. This e-platform is a one-stop solution for all stakeholders who will be associated with the demand incentive focus of FAME India, including OEMs, dealers, vehicle testing centres and the National Automotive Board.

Further, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, which establishes battery-powered e-rickshaws as a valid form of commercial transport, was passed by Parliament earlier this year. This paved the way for their operation in Delhi NCR and elsewhere in the country. E-rickshaws are already a popular mode of transport in the NCR for short distances. Their small size and excellent turning radius helps them easily negotiate small lanes and congested areas. The Delhi government first introduced e-rickshaws in 2009, ahead of the Commonwealth Games, to facilitate clean and convenient commuting. The decision to legalise e-rickshaws can go a long way in popularising this environment-friendly mode of public transport.

However, there are some major challenges associated with small electric vehicles. For example, their speed cannot match the speed of conventional fuel two-wheelers or three-wheelers. Then they are light in weight and run the risk of a bigger damage in the unfortunate case of an accident. The electric vehicle industry is acutely aware of these drawbacks and is working to address these issues.

Keeping in view the limited reserves of conventional fuels and the rising demand in the automobile sector, it is imperative to find alternative sources of energy for transportation. Electric vehicles are energy-efficient, cost-effective and can prove to be an excellent alternative to petrol/diesel/CNG-driven vehicles. The good news is they are expected to only improve in the coming years on the back of technological breakthroughs.

By Ayush Lohia

The author is CEO, Lohia Auto Industries—the first Indian company to get approval for an electric three-wheeler under FAME scheme. Views are personal

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