THE TIME TO PLUG AND PLAY HAS COME

The Luxury Collection - - Current Affairs - -By Anand Mohan

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.

Money mat­ters

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.

In­dia shin­ing

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.

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