TIME TO BE RE­AL­IS­TIC

Are we truly ready for elec­tric cars?

Car India - - CONTENTS -

The in­dus­try was wait­ing with bated breath for the out­come of the gov­ern­ment’s meet­ing of 9 Septem­ber to fine-tune the GST rates. When the an­nounce­ment came, it was ap­par­ent that the gov­ern­ment had back­tracked a lit­tle and that the full-blown ef­fect of the pro­posed in­crease in cess was not go­ing to be im­posed. In­stead, a two, five, and seven per cent cess was im­posed on mid-sized cars, lux­ury cars and SUVs re­spec­tively. The re­sponse of the auto in­dus­try was mixed. While some com­pa­nies heaved a sigh of re­lief, oth­ers kept mum and still oth­ers were vo­cal in their crit­i­cism. Is the GST prob­lem for the auto in­dus­try done and dusted? Far from it. The rea­sons are as fol­lows:

Coun­tries like the UK and France have set the dead­line of 2040 for cars to go elec­tric. In­dia has set a dead­line of 2030. The In­dian dead­line is ex­tremely am­bi­tious and will re­quire more than a Her­culean ef­fort to meet for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: We are not a power-sur­plus coun­try We have dra­matic volt­age fluc­tu­a­tions We have con­stant power black-outs We do not have bil­lions to spend on in­fra­struc­ture Charg­ing points need to be in­stalled all over the coun­try Res­i­den­tial lo­ca­tions would need hun­dreds of charg­ing points How to charge a user for these charg­ing points is still not de­ter­mined How to pre­vent mis­use of the charg­ing points also needs to be de­ter­mined Fi­nally, on the ba­sis of cur­rent tech­nol­ogy, one charg­ing point used for eight hours will con­sume more elec­tric­ity than sev­eral house­holds put to­gether. How will we cope, es­pe­cially if all users charge their cars at night when power con­sump­tion peaks?

To­day, all the bat­tery sup­pli­ers for elec­tric ve­hi­cles are sit­u­ated in China. They can be at­tracted to In­dia but this is not go­ing to hap­pen overnight. Con­se­quently, we will have to im­port bat­ter­ies for cars. In­dia’s re­serves for lithium are un­known and need to be de­ter­mined ur­gently; oth­er­wise, lithium will be­come an­other drain on the im­port bill.

The cor­rect so­lu­tion, there­fore, is to start from the ba­sics by look­ing into raw ma­te­ri­als like lithium, set­ting up plants for the man­u­fac­ture of bat­ter­ies, set­ting up charg­ing sta­tions and, fi­nally and most im­por­tantly, beef­ing up our elec­tric­ity sup­plies. All this is go­ing to take time. We may set tar­gets but un­der In­dian con­di­tions, these are al­most never achieved. An ex­am­ple: the rate of con­struc­tion of roads in In­dia.

The cur­rent auto pol­icy (with re­lated GST rates) fails mis­er­ably from a short-term and medium-term point of view:

AD 2040 would be an al­to­gether more re­al­is­tic dead­line for ban­ning fos­sil-fuel cars. Whilst it takes years for in­fra­struc­ture to be set up for elec­tric cars, the auto in­dus­try can in­tro­duce hy­brid ve­hi­cles in the space of months. Our auto pol­icy has sin­gu­larly failed to recog­nise this, with the re­sult that hy­brid ve­hi­cles are taxed at a higher rate of 43 per cent. The auto pol­icy has also failed to recog­nise that hy­brid ve­hi­cles come in all shapes and sizes and tax­ing all of them at 43 per cent is again a mis­take. In fact, all hy­brid ve­hi­cles should not bear any cess. The gov­ern­ment can make this change, even now. Car man­u­fac­tur­ers will bring in hy­brid ve­hi­cles of all sizes very quickly with im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits in terms of emis­sion and pol­lu­tion.

The trans­port min­is­ter has se­verely cas­ti­gated the use of diesel. At the same time, he turned a blind eye to the fact that diesel in In­dia is con­sid­er­ably cheaper than petrol. In Ma­ha­rash­tra, the dif­fer­ence is nearly Rs 17 per litre. A litre of petrol costs only Rs 26 but is sold to the con­sumer at Rs 79. The same equiv­a­lent price in Pakistan is Rs 41 and in Sri Lanka Rs 49.80. Yes, tax­a­tion of petrol is ex­tor­tion­ate and needs to be re­duced dra­mat­i­cally. Where the Cen­tral and state gov­ern­ments are ruled by the same po­lit­i­cal party, there should be no ex­cuse or de­lay in re­duc­ing the tax on petrol; oth­er­wise, the share of pol­lut­ing diesel ve­hi­cles will con­tinue to in­crease.

Fi­nally, the move­ment to­wards elec­tric ve­hi­cles should not ig­nore al­ter­na­tive fuel cell tech­nol­ogy. Fuel cell ve­hi­cles are be­ing man­u­fac­tured by com­pa­nies like Honda, Hyundai, and Toy­ota and are fu­elled by hy­dro­gen which can be pro­duced by the elec­trol­y­sis of wa­ter. Hy­dro­gen re­fu­elling sta­tions can eas­ily sub­sti­tute petrol sta­tions be­cause it takes only about three min­utes to re­fuel a hy­dro­gen fuel cell car.

Let’s not keep all our eggs in one bas­ket.

“The Frankfurt Auto Show which was held in Septem­ber had all the ex­hibitors flaunt­ing their elec­tric and hy­brid mod­els. Diesel mod­els were rel­e­gated to the back of the stands”

Story: H S Bil­limo­ria ( Above) The Honda Fit (Jazz) hy­brid

Be­low) The Toy­ota Auris hy­brid

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