Over two decades ago, Bill Gates entered into a famous spat with a leader in the global automobile industry, remarking, “if the car industry had innovated like software and computers, we would have cars costing less than $4,000 and delivering a mileage of over 50 miles a litre”, to which, the car industry man retorted, “...and crash three times a day.”
In a brave new Tesla-redefined world, we have a booming industry of electric vehicles (EVs), which are being defined and viewed more as computers as wheels rather than variants and improvisations on traditional automobiles. There are sprouting start-ups on the one hand, which are working on its software side, or the battery and its recharging, and on the other, infra and energy companies designing new-age charging solutions, even as traditional car industries are transforming for an age beyond the carbon-rich fossil fuels.
Innovation best booms, especially in a nascent area, with least regulations and a near-total free hand to the dreamers, innovators, designers, developers, who can experiment freely, building prototypes and improving the product in stages and pieces. It would be foolhardy to wait for perfect solutions. Hence, by design, the early-age EVs would be imperfect. Think of the early-age mobile phones, or TVs, or even aeroplanes.
But a recent spate of accidents, where either a vehicle has burst while being driven or while being parked, or a battery has gone off while being charged inside a home, some of them fatal, which is a cause for concern.
The road safety and overall safety tests for electric vehicles, including their battery and charging equipment, must undergo as excruciatingly stringent a battery of tests as are legally mandated for the traditional automobile industry. There can be no allowance for a slip up in issues of public safety.
India needs to come out, quickly, even urgently, with a comprehensive policy on electric vehicles.