Powering electric mobility: Can Covid-19 be an opportunity to boost electric mobility in India?

In terms of EV charging stations, although there are many infrastructure operators in India, a standard business model is yet to be established.

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By Vinay Raghunath & Som Kapoor

The sudden drop in air pollution levels in metropolitan cities due to the lockdown was one of the few positive impacts of the early days of the pandemic. Emissions fell drastically, skies cleared, and residents of New York, London, Shanghai, Mumbai and other major metro cities enjoyed clean air for the first time in decades.

As per EY analysis (Mobility Consumer Index Report, 2020)*, monthly per capita emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) fell globally across all three travel segments—work travel, social and household travel, and leisure and entertainment. This broadly tracks the decline in journey numbers already noted. Substantial reduction in emission levels was also noted; 56% for work travel, 58% for social and household travel, and 62% for leisure and entertainment. Policymakers across the globe are now trying with conviction to push the future towards low-carbon transport and automakers are increasingly working on their commitments to bring new models of zero-emission vehicles.

As per the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), EV sales in FY20 were 156,000 units, which were up by 20% year-on-year. In FY20, 152,000 electric two-wheelers (97.43%), 3,400 cars (2.17%) and 600 buses (0.38%) were sold, which is not even 1% of FY20 internal combustion engine vehicle sales. The market cap of global EV manufacturers has witnessed a historic rise (over $500 billion) in this fiscal year. This is more than the combined market cap of the global traditional top-five automotive giants.

High upfront capital cost is the major obstacle impeding the adoption of EVs and their growth in India. The most critical component of battery pack leads decides the cost of an EV, considering that the cost of this component is about 40% of the total vehicle cost.

In the current scenario, selling EVs is a thin- or negative-margin business, due to high battery prices that account for a significant percentage of the vehicle purchase price. Future advances in technology and greater economies of scale will, in all probability, make batteries more affordable. In the meantime, corporates who want to procure EV fleets may find leasing as a more attractive option than purchasing these vehicles. This trend is likely to make the way for a secondary financing market. As a new business model, few EV manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are in the planning phase for offering the option to purchase the vehicle and separately lease the battery—which typically needs to be replaced after 7-10 years. In addition, third-party players have started to develop battery-as-a-service business models focused on bringing more moderately-priced battery replacement solutions to the public.

Moreover, the market also holds opportunities to repurpose and recycle EV batteries. A typical EV battery, after being removed, retains the power capacity of 50-70%. This has the potential to be repurposed for tasks such as power backup, renewable-energy storage and grid stabilisation. Upon completion of a battery’s second life, the final stage is recycling.

In terms of EV charging stations, although there are many infrastructure operators in India, a standard business model is yet to be established. Utilities, oil majors, network operators and software developers are also becoming active in the market to get the early-mover advantage.

More than operations and maintenance, installation services can serve as the primary revenue driver in this market. Many state utilities are offering special tariffs/plans for retailing electricity for EV charging, while operators of charging networks typically provide charging station hardware, cloud-based software services, technical support and other electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) management services, such as payment processing.

As India has demonstrated its leadership in compact cars and the SUV segment, the stage is set for Indian manufacturers to get a global EV product on the same lines where affordability, efficiency and size become India’s differentiator. Even the largest global EV OEM is taking about a compact mass-market car to expand its footprint in the European market.

Raghunath is partner and automotive sector leader, and Kapoor is partner, automotive sector, EY India


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