Very few personal car users drive more than 100km per day, within city limits. There’s mathematics to support the case. Suppose you live in Gurgaon, and even if you drive across two states, to your office in Noida, the return journey won’t be more than 100km. Throw in a few meetings in Delhi and a dinner, and the maximum you might drive is 130km. In an electric car that travels 200km on a full charge, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The problem is an almost complete lack of public charging stations in most cities in India, as also in almost all high-rise residential apartments for overnight home charging.
I faced exactly the same situation last week driving the i3s in Delhi NCR. The ‘i’ is a sub-brand of BMW that manufactures plug-in electric vehicles. It currently has two models—the i8 plug-in hybrid (available in India) and the i3/i3s all-electric car (not for sale in India right now). The i3 is also BMW’s first zero tailpipe emissions mass-produced vehicle. (The difference between the i3 and i3s is that the latter produces more power and is sportier/faster.)
Its design is unlike most others cars—glass occupies a lot of area and even the body has a reflective material that looks like glass. It’s compact on the outside yet spacious inside. By removing the B-pillar and using rear-hinged doors, the i3s gives passengers plenty of room. The cabin is made of natural materials such as eucalyptus wood and olive leaf tanned leather—not only to give the passengers a ‘relaxing’ atmosphere, but also to make a statement of being eco-friendly. And unlike a Tesla that can be driven (almost) using the central display screen, the i3s remains a BMW at core, and people shifting from conventional cars won’t find the atmosphere alien. Lastly, its large, 20-inch wheels add eye-catching elegance to this sporty car.
The i3s has an AC electric motor that powers the rear wheels. Its 42kWh lithium-ion battery pack can be fully charged in about six hours (using normal three-pin plug), and a 50kW public charger can give you 80% range in 40 minutes. The motor develops 181 horsepower that is enough to give it a sports car-like performance, and it can touch a speed of 100kph in less than 7 seconds. While the claimed driving range is 200km, you can even go beyond that by adopting good driving practices, such as by not accelerating too often (frequent braking is not a problem as the car recharges the battery when you brake, and this increases the range).
A unique thing about most modern electric cars is that you can drive without applying brakes at all. The i3s has a technology called brake energy regeneration that slows down the car when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, bringing it to a complete stop while recharging the battery also.
In the global context, despite all these technologies, the i3 and i3s aren’t ideal electric cars—during a 2013 earnings conference call, competitor Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk had famously said there’s room to improve on the i3—but in the Indian urban driving cycle, the i3s can set an example or two for other manufactures who are planning to launch electric cars here (only as far as driving range is concerned). A range of 100-odd kilometres (of the existing electric cars in India) isn’t really enough even if we assume public charging facilities are in place. But anything close to 200km can work, provided pricing and associated infrastructure is sorted. On their part, users who want to switch to electric cars can find them far more practical if they change the way they ‘top up’ the vehicle—an EV you charge 3-4 times a week, unlike a petrol/diesel car that you refuel once.
(BMW hasn’t yet announced whether or not it’ll launch the i3 in India.)