THE TIME TO PLUG AND PLAY HAS COME
Would you believe if I told you that the first electric cars were made in the 1800s. Harder to fathom is that a fourth of the cars sold in the world before we got into the 1900s were electric cars. There were times when the batteries weren’t even rechargeable yet scientists at the time thought of EVS as the chosen mode of transport. When Henry Ford built the first assembly line for the Model T though, it was the first nail in the EV coffin. They eventually died a slow death to resurrect as a modern electric car in the Nineties, the General Motors EV1.
Scheming of the nineties
The EV1 was a huge success but the oil mafia got worried that it would lead to massive losses for them and so arm twisted GM to recall and scrap each and every model of the EV1 they had sold to customers. The year was 2003, a time that would go down in the history books as the darkest phase in the automotive industry in recent times. The rise of EVS was going to happen one way or another and it was just a matter of time. It is to be believed that the impact of the scrapping of the EV1 led to an emotional reaction to create a company that didn’t relent to the whims and fancies of oil companies. Tesla Motors was formed and it led to several rounds of funding to build an all-electric sedan. In came Tesla with the Model S, a premium luxury sedan that was built by a company that owed no allegiance to oil companies. 2012, the first production year of the Model S changed everything. There was nothing stopping them and it led to the second great wave in EV tech the world was going to see.
Four wheels or two
Back in 2010, I was just stepping out of the convocation hall with my masters degree from Coventry University. It was a beautiful ceremony at the Coventry Cathedral where the achievements of the students was recognised at the most important landmark of the city. Coventry is home to Jaguar and Land Rover, gave birth to Triumph and also makes the unique London Taxis. It’s the hotbed for automobiles in the UK, and hence getting a Masters in automotive journalism here opened the gates to esteemed publications more easily and the exposure was great. It was a keystone for my journalism career. Over the years, my education and automotive knowledge got me into the driver’s seat of many fabulously expensive and fast cars. I was driving cars I wouldn’t dream of owning, and driving them well. I had forgotten that day I first stepped out of the cathedral, when I met a friend who had come to visit me on his electric bike.
It was a modified bicycle with a hub motor in the rear wheel, a homemade battery pack he had strapped on to the lower bar of the frame and it had a lever near the right handle to accelerate. I took it for a quick spin and liked it a lot, as a toy. I never thought it would mean so much more to me. Over a year ago, a few friends from the university caught up to relive some of these moments and it turned out that everyone was complaining over rising fuel prices, traffic jams and the regular problems like pollution and quality time with family among other conversations. Something needed to change and just like that, we decided to quit our jobs and pursue an idea. We wanted to make electric bicycles to save the country, one bike at a time.
It’s not a revolutionary idea as there are many who have attempted to make their own E-bikes. We had to do something different so we started off with the design of these bikes.
Smart, modern, desirable, and a product for anyone who owns a high end smartphone. It will connect to fitness apps, have a range of more than a couple of days of commute, will be portable enough to take it right to your living room and will not only save the planet but also make you health conscious. We’re starting up finally, and just like me, there are countless others who are finally talking about electricity powered mobility as a mainstream alternative.
Then and now
Where are we at though, despite the latent demand for EVS? As you can see around you, it’s harder to find a Mahindra E2O than it is to spot a Porsche in India. Bengaluru leads the way as the electric car company is based out of the IT city, but there is one major thing missing. The EVS aren’t desirable. You only spend for something new and different when you have pockets deep enough to take the risk. Take Tesla for example. The secret to Tesla’s success is the high net worth market it caters to. EVS are yet to go mainstream and the history of the automotive industry explains why this top down approach works best. Someone on a budget will not risk investing in something new. Things are changing fast though.
Batteries, the most expensive component of an electric car, are now getting cheaper. It costs less than a fourth of what it did in 2010 according to a Mckinsey and Company study. This is bringing prices down rapidly and has allowed a company like Tesla to make more affordable cars like the Model 3 now. It costs half the price of a Model S for two thirds the capacity of its battery. I remember driving the Nissan Leaf a couple of years ago, my first all-electric car. Like the Teslas, the Leaf and other EVS have one thing in common – range anxiety. You see, a battery used to give you a range of 150-250km and then you had to spend hours at a charging station. You wouldn’t want to go too far from home with the fear of running out of juice. With the new generation Leaf though, the company says that a 360km range will be possible next year. Tesla is offering 400km of range on its cars and with fast charging capabilities, you can now get to a 3/4th charge in just half an hour. Times are quickly changing.
Closer to home, we are usually the slowest of countries to adopt changes in the global market but it’s different this time. India is one of only four countries in the world to have announced an all-electric car fleet in the future. The Heavy Industries and Transportation ministries have already set a deadline for 2030. While you might think it is a far-fetched dream, the results are showing not just every quarter but every month. Tata Motors bagged the largest order for EVS in the world with the contract to supply 10000 EVS to the Energy Efficiency Services Ltd, an arm of the ministry of power – a deal worth Rs 1,120 crores. Each car will cost Rs 11.2 lakh, and if there is acceptance to purchase something for that price, more premium cars will follow.
It is not just cars, but two wheelers, trucks, buses and bicycles too that are seeing electric propulsion as a viable change. There are over a dozen companies making electric bicycles now, a few are venturing into scooters and motorcycles and I get to see Tata Motors testing electric buses around Pune nearly every other day. The industry is experiencing a big shift, one that is disruptive and is warning a fossil fuel dependent system to brace for impact. Five years from now, we will probably be living in a totally different world, where plug points will have taken over fuel stations.