India can be a 100% EV nation by 2030

Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala from IIT Madras shares his thoughts on the future of electric vehicles (EVs_ in India, the challenges to their adoption and suggestions which could help EVs become the next big thing in India.

Q1. Is the Government of India’s vision of making the country a 100% EV nation by 2030 a realistic one? Why/why not?

Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala (AJ): It is indeed a realistic vision. By 2030, almost all new vehicles will become EVs. India has 15 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India. EVs will help us overcome the problem of environmental pollution. EVs will also reduce our dependence on oil imported from different countries. Fortunately, the prices of batteries are already plummeting rapidly. EVs will cost no more than petrol cars in the next 3 to 4 years. In terms of performance too, EVs will be useful in terms of various parameters. They will be far more energy-efficient (about 4 times). Due to all these reasons, the country needs to facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles.

Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the new vehicles will be petrol vehicles around 2030, at least in the two-wheeler, three-wheeler & four-wheeler passenger vehicles. All the new vehicles will become electric vehicles. However, I am not sure if trucks will also be EVs. Buses also will become electric, mostly.

Q2. Given factors like the enhanced availability of public transportation system and the decline in auto purchases by millennials, do you think that Indian consumers are ready to embrace this switch to EVs?

AJ: EV will give better shared transport. The fact that people need to stand in long queues to get power, such as in case of Compressed Natural Gas vehicles, will not be true for EVs. You can even charge EVs at home! I, for instance, have been driving an EV car for the last four years. I have 15 amperes charging point at home which I use for charging my car overnight and it works! I use the same plug point as the one that I use for operating my air-conditioner as the one for charging my car. So, you don’t need to have big charging points. Large charging points are alternatives; but you can use these kinds of plugs everywhere and charge EVs. This battery can last even throughout the day, though it depends from vehicle to vehicle and on consumption.

Q3. What challenges exist in the adoption of EVs as a popular mode of commuting in India? How can these be addressed?

AJ: I see technical challenges pertaining to battery development, development of motor, development of cells, procurement of raw materials for EV production. Also, there’s the question of making these automobiles affordable and reliable for the consumers.

We are just starting. In three years, we will have many options. Home charging will be the norm. The government is already working towards this; but there is a lot  of work that’s left to be done.

Q4. What lessons can the Indian automotive industry take from its international counterparts to bolster EVs? 

AJ: We will borrow whatever technology is available. We can use the knowledge from our international counterparts in the industry; but we must recast that knowledge. But note that EV elsewhere is for premium segment (for example ₹25-60 lakhs car), whereas we need affordable vehicles – two-wheelers/three-wheelers and ₹5-10 lakh car. They are mostly focused on cars which cost more ₹25 lakh; India may not need to many of those. We have to come up with new ways to manufacture ₹50,000 two-wheeler and a ₹4 lakh electric car. This is not really a question of customising foreign technology; it is a question of designing afresh.

Q5. Is India capable of manufacturing EVs on its own or will it depend on countries like China and Japan to meet its technological and other production related requirements? If it is dependent on other nations, what can be done to make the industry self-reliant?

AJ: We certainly can make all. Today India produces a car which costs less than ₹4 lakhs. Nobody else in the world does the same. We have certainly looked up to the world for some inspiration; but we have also learned to do it ourselves. I think the same thing can be done in the case of electric vehicles as well. The only technology for which we need tie-up is Lithium Ion battery cells.

Q6. Are measures like tax breaks to EVs given in the budget consistent with WTO rules or is India heading towards inviting another international dispute? 

AJ: They are good. All over world EVs are getting 30% to 40% subsidy. For instance, Europe, China & USA are offering rebates to the electric vehicle industry. In the next few years, all these subsidies will be gradually withdrawn. We don’t need subsidies forever.

Q7. Do you think government’s efforts to boost the adoption of EVs like FAME 2 scheme are a success? Why/ why not? If not, what suggestions do you have for the government?

AJ: FAME2 will be part of what is needed. GST concessions is next step. We need incentives to manufacture cells.

There are certain places where enough understanding of technology does not exist and therefore, they are making some mistakes. But they are going to make corrections in due course of time.

Q 8. What are the factors that have led to the de-growth of automotive sales in India? What are the impacts that it is likely to have? What can the government do to correct this situation?

AJ: Well, it is more to do with economy and will self-correct as economy picks up. Our GDP has gone for a toss; our economy is not in good shape. That is the reason why people are not purchasing consumer durables like vehicles much. Once the economic rebound happens, this demand for vehicles will be stirred up. We also need jobs to enhance the purchasing power of our consumers.

Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala is a professor at the premier engineering college, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has done his PhD from University of Maine, USA and taught at Washington State University before joining IIT, Madras in 1981. The country’s first business park – IIT Madras Research Park – is his brainchild. He has been honoured with several prestigious awards & accolades such as the Padmashri Award & Shanti-Swarup Bhatnagar Award, among others.

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