M&M and Nissan vehicles will soon hit the roads of this Himalayan kingdom

It is not too often that you see Bhutan make news in the automotive world. Yet this country played host to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor, last week. And in the coming days, the top management of Mahindra & Mahindra will be visiting, too.

This Himalayan kingdom, better known for its happiness quotient, is now on a new mission: electric cars. This is what prompted Ghosn to make a stopover and finalise a pact for supply of his company’s Leaf electric car, which will be used by Bhutan’s Government officials and its taxi segment.

M&M, likewise, will enter into an agreement for its e20, which will soon be seen on Bhutan roads, even though its numbers in India are little to write home about. It is nearly a year since the e20 made its debut, but with no sops coming in from the Indian Government, its price tag of over ₹5 lakh has been the biggest deterrent to buyers here.

And, yet here is India’s neighbour, which has made its clean air intent loud and clear with its electric car programme. Bhutan is proud of its ecosystem and, clearly, respects what nature has to offer. Its government believes that as part of this drive, the best bet for clean air is electric cars.

Expensive option

Is there a lesson in this for India? Time and again, there have been talks of an electric mobility plan, but this means creating infrastructure and, more importantly, offering manufacturers fiscal incentives. Nothing of the kind has happened in India so far, even though sections of the Government have been pushing for its implementation.

The absence of these sops makes electric/hybrid cars an expensive option, which explains why sales of M&M’s e20 have been averaging barely 75 units each month. It also puts in perspective why some years ago Honda had no option but to offer a massive price cut on its Civic hybrid (from ₹21 lakh to ₹13 lakh) to liquidate stocks.

At one level, comparing Bhutan to India is like (comparing) apples and oranges. It has a population of less than a million, which is a fraction of the numbers in an average Indian city. The cynics would argue that it is easy to frame laws in a country where vehicle numbers are modest. In their view, India is gigantic and diverse with an active automobile manufacturing base.

Doesn’t that imply a greater need to promote clean air? It is only legal intervention by the Supreme Court that has prompted India to go in for higher grade fuel in its cities. Electric cars are an important part of this endeavour to ensure that future generations of Indians conserve their green spaces. Bhutan has realised this much faster.

(This article was published on February 24, 2014)
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