In a telephonic interview with FE’s Shweta Bhanot Mehrotra, Sohinder Gill, director- corporate affairs, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), and also CEO, Hero Electric, talks about the lack of clarity on the government’s 2030 EV plan and the much awaited September meeting. Excerpts:
Will 2030 see the dawn of EV boom in India?
As a country, we have stopped talking about 100% EVs by 2030. And now, there are mixed signals with somebody saying 30%, but nothing is yet out of the bag. Instead, the government is now saying that some segments will go ahead, while others will be far behind. That’s why, instead of a cohesive integrated plan for EVs, they are picking and choosing low hanging fruits, and trying to pushing their weight behind that. The direction is that the government is going to push electric mobility on public transport — buses, shared mobility to an extent (taxis and e-rickshaws) — and two-wheelers, to get big numbers. These segments will be their focus in addition to some collective buying of cars by the government for captive use, so that examples are created and word of mouth is spread. There is a shift from what was happening under NEMP (National Electric Mobility Programme) 2030, which took a different direction, but now it is way too fragmented.
How are we planning to deal with the challenge of lithium availability in India?
It would have been good for India to tie-up for lithium because even 10 years back people knew that lithium is not going to be in abundance anywhere. China and some other countries took the first step and they have almost blocked 50-60% of the lithium that is available in the world. Perhaps, it is too late for India to wake up and do something. Even now, the government is not too keen in pushing it as a public agenda. Perhaps, the government is leaving it to the industry to go ahead, and try and block some of the deposits that are still available around Australia and Bolivia. Now, it all depends upon these industrialists on how much risk they want to take. A bit of government backing from the green room is perhaps being talked off.
If we have our strengthens and good products, there will be flow of raw material as the world is one market today. To summarise, it would have been good if there was some government involvement in trying to tie-up. More importantly, there is a need for clarity of thought on EVs. While on one side, we wanted 100% lithium, now we are talking about 30%, which means by that time there could be alternate technology on the horizon that uses much less lithium or no lithium at all. The road map towards future should at least be clear now. The industry and government has to come together for oneness of purpose, which has been missing till this point.
When do we expect clarity to emerge?
I believe in another three months the government will churn out these ideas and announce it in September, we expect clarity to come only then. The Phase I has been extended twice and now till September 30. Everything has been stagnating and in limbo from the last one and half years.
When we meet in September for Phase II, we should be clear of the direction. A lot of efforts are required by BARC, ARCI and government organisations to develop batteries that use less lithium or no lithium, solid state batteries, alternate batteries and alternate minerals. It could be a 3-5 year plan given to institutions and private bodies.
What is expected from the September Phase II meeting?
What is known for sure is that it is not going to be a coherent integrated policy, covering all aspects of the vehicles. It will be based on low hanging fruits and government will try to reduce its burden on direct subsidies in the short run. The states will have to play an important role in it and compete amongst each other. There is a project of Light House cities, around 5 to 10 cities, competing with each other to showcase EVs in 2-3 years time. Such projects will happen.
Will hybrids and EVs be promoted together?
In Phase I, the talk was to promote hybrids and EVs together. But little later, Mr. Gadkari (Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways) came and said that we want only EVs and many people also started saying that we need to jump the gun of hybrids as they would slowdown the EVs. Ultimately, NITI Aayog nailed the coffin by saying that we do not need hybrids and EVs should be the focus as that is the right way to go for India. Particularly, in two-wheelers which cannot have hybrids at all. Since large population of vehicles is going to be only EVs in any case, therefore why go for hybrids.
In the process, we disturbed quite a bit of MNCs, who currently are only into hybrids and don’t have serious attempts on EVs. All of these are in India. Perhaps, there was a push and pull. And now hybrids are back. And it is going to be hybrids and EVs. Hybrid is a way to go to EVs. Just that EVs should not take a back seat because of that.
What about charging infrastructure for EVs?
One needs to understand which vehicles require charging stations. For example, two-wheelers do not need extensive charging infrastructure on the road. They only need this in exceptional cases, because once charged a two-wheeler can go up to 70-80 kms, and generally they are not used for more than 40 kms in a day.
Therefore, when we are talking about large population of 18 million petrol two-wheelers and if we convert them into EVs, the country does not have to spend too much money and time in setting up public charging infrastructure. All that has to be done is in residential complexes and office spaces, place 5 or 15 AMP sockets where people can just plug-in like a mobile and charge. Most of the manufacturers now have portable batteries so you can just charge them at your desk.
Therefore, two-wheelers is a real story that is unfolding very quickly now. The government would promote it in a big way because they know that subsidy requirement and infrastructure dependence is low. On commercial vehicles, they want to promote electric buses in a big way along with e-rickshaws, as they impact common citizens.
By Shweta Bhanot Mehrotra