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In fast lane: Going electric

THE ASIAN AGE. | R. MOHAN
Published : Dec 18, 2017, 12:45 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2017, 12:48 am IST

Electric cars are cheaper to own and run. There are lower running costs, as power is cheaper than refined fossil fuels.

It appears the world is sold on electric locomotion as a concept that has been seen to work and forces are already at it to ensure things speed up.
 It appears the world is sold on electric locomotion as a concept that has been seen to work and forces are already at it to ensure things speed up.

The way private transportation moves on the roads is set to change drastically. When push comes to shove for electric traction as the model way forward for the motor car and, perhaps, India’s ubiquitous two-wheelers, the transformation will take place quicker than imagined. It appears the world is sold on electric locomotion as a concept that has been seen to work and forces are already at it to ensure things speed up. The key is the electric battery and we can expect that, as with Moore’s law governing the speed and cost of computing power first changed the modern world, major improvements in battery technology will make the difference here.

“The transition may take time in India. Today, we think 2030 is a realistic changeover date, but things could happen much sooner,” says Venu Srinivasan, managing director of two and three-wheeler giant, TVS Motor Company. “When the change comes, it will come rapidly,” he predicts. In the USA, where a mere one per cent of 250 million cars run on batteries today, rapid transformation is predicted, as lithium-ion batteries get expensive makeovers and it appears the transition time is going to be really sharp as Venu predicts. Trying to make it happen quickly is “showboat” billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose Tesla Motors has placed itself at the cutting edge of technology to buck the traditional auto giants.

Let’s face it, Uber’s “Flying Cars” are going to be an elitist experiment compared to what electric locomotion is going to achieve for mass transportation. Musk is convinced that world oil supplies will plateau by 2020 and run out by the middle of the century and so he built the Tesla Roadster which, in the typically flamboyant style of a Richard Branson, he is planning to send orbiting around Mars too on his most powerful rocket yet. The attention he garners might seem monumental compared to the number of EVs his plant has produced so far — just 600 — but it is the quick transformation in technology that the Roadster — driven by the likes of George Clooney, Matt Damon and Leonardo diCaprio among Hollywood A-listers, and several tech chieftains like the Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — promises, that is significant.

The Roadster specs are fancy  — 0 to 100 kmph in four seconds and travels 380 km on a single charge - but comes at a pricey equivalent of Rs 70 lakh. But wait, prices will only come down as production is scaled up. And there are more economical and less pricey EVs on the road everywhere, including in India where Tatas joined the brigade with Tigor EVs, of which they are to deliver 10,000 beginning with 250 cars in phase 1, to the government’s Energy Efficiency Services Ltd.

“With Tigor EV, we have begun our journey in boosting e-mobility and offering a full range of electric vehicles to Indian customers,” Guenter Butschcek, CEO & MD has been quoted as saying. What seems a long journey has begun already with the first competitive steps in mainstream EV manufacture in India where the Mahindras have led the way till now.

The challenges are immense, particularly for India where constant power is by no means guaranteed. Environmentalists will point out that burning fossil fuels to generate the additional power required to charge up all the nation’s electric vehicles will be equally hazardous. While electricity is in theory everywhere, making powerful charging points for EVs is a different challenge as a trickle charge may hardly give a car 20 km on a two-hour charge. Converting every petrol bunk into a charging point may be an option, but that may have to wait for petroleum to be phased out altogether. We are now talking of the 2050s or beyond, long before when technology may have improved leaps and bounds to have altogether changed the way people live and drive and commute.

China, which can be a progressive force when it is not hell-bent on disrupting the rest of the world economy, is getting ready to lead the charge on electric locomotion. Toying with futuristic tech like automated suburban buses and computer-guided trackless trams, China has been heading the EV way with Volkswagen tying up with Anhui Jianghuai. Research is proving that pure electric cars are cheaper to own and run than petrol and diesel cars in the UK, US and Japan. Not only are there lower running costs as power is cheaper than refined fossil fuels, but also maintenance costs may be less as the engines are simpler.

As the Nissan Leafs, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Tesla S are getting noticeable on the world’s roads, it feels the future is already here with innovation having accelerated product development. Why, India got its first-ever Tesla Model X SUV just a few days ago! But the Indian revolution would truly take off when electric two-wheelers get popular. Hero and Lohia make them now and other majors, including Bajaj and TVS Motor, are eyeing the segment. It’s early days yet but innovation will be driven by necessity because mankind will have little choice but to go off fossil fuels. Why, even New Delhi might breathe a little easier if all its vehicles — odd and even — move the electric way. That will be the day.

Tags: electric cars, tesla roadster