Nandana James

In November 2020, when Regan Daniel decided to replace his one-year-old Honda City with an electric car, Nexon EV, keeping in mind the cost savings as well as environmental benefits, his decision raised more than a few eyebrows. “My parents never thought an electric car could make it to Kanyakumari, my hometown, covering roughly 1,000 kilometers from Bangalore, where I was living,” the 29-year-old says. So, in December, he decided to undertake this trip in his Nexon EV to prove to his parents that it was indeed possible.

However, since the usual route was not equipped with charging stations, he had to take a roundabout route – as well as spending eight hours slow-charging his car at Coimbatore in the absence of fast-charging alternatives – stretching the trip to a day-and-a-half as opposed to the eight hours it would have taken otherwise. Each and every pitstop to charge also had to be painstakingly planned and chalked out beforehand. This points to the most common issue flagged by electric car owners in India: the lack of sufficient charging infrastructure.

Not for long distances

This also ends up being a deterrent to make the shift to electric cars as most people wouldn’t want to pay a premium for an electric car, only to be saddled with range anxiety. Like Daniel, there are many electric car owners BusinessLine spoke to who have undertaken inter-state or long-distance travels or plan to do so soon. But there are also others, who, despite being hardcore EV enthusiasts otherwise, admit that electric cars in India are not suitable for long distance travels yet.

Analysts and experts tracking the automobile sector also say that the electric car adoption remains at a nascent stage in India, accounting for less than one per cent of India’s overall car sales, mainly due to the lack of adequate charging infrastructure as well as the high vehicle price vis-à-vis its internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle counterparts. But most users resort to home charging alone for their electric cars as the maximum daily commute requirement comes up to around 150 kilometers; and the range offered by electric cars, they argue, is sufficient for the average daily usage of cars in India.

Besides, people who have owned electric cars for more than a year, also point out how charging stations have been coming up rapidly over the past few years. Tata Power, for instance, has 400 charging stations across 45 cities now. It plans to expand to one lakh charging stations by 2025, covering more than 100 cities. Coimbatore now has two fast charging stations, says Daniel, which means that he can save around eight hours when he next undertakes a Bengaluru-Kanyakumari trip.

Tata Motors’ Nexon EV, Hyundai Kona and MG ZS EV are the popular choices of electric cars in the personal segment in India, and are available at starting prices of ₹13.99 lakh, ₹23.75 lakh, and ₹20.99 lakh, respectively. According to electric vehicle makers’ industry body, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), there are around 16,200 electric cars in India so far, including the fleet segment, while there are 1,800 charging stations.

Electric car owners stress how their decision to buy an electric car was, after all, also about the environment; it was never just about a new car. Daniel says he can now drive ‘guilt-free’. Gurgaon-based Asheesh Arora, 43, a Nexon EV owner, was inspired to shift to EVs after he spent half a year at Vancouver and experienced the impact of the cleaner air there on his health. - “I realised that the air we breathe is not what we should be breathing and what we should be leaving for the next generation.” Despite the issues around range and product features he has faced with the Nexon EV, he has no regrets.

Another common issue

The discrepancy between the range promised by the companies and the actual range is another common issue that is flagged. According to every electric car owner BusinessLine spoke to, regardless of the brand - be it Nexon EV, Hyundai Kona, MG ZS EV - their cars provided a lower range than what was advertised, though they admit that this is not an issue exclusive to electric cars.

Even people who have undertaken inter-state travels spanning hundreds of kilometers admit to not getting the range claimed by the company. Like Daniel, Ashish Thakwani, 35, had also undertaken a meticulously planned trip with his partner in their Nexon EV from Mumbai to Delhi and back again to Delhi, as well as a trip from Delhi to Kasol. “We were promised a range of 312 kilometers, we expected it to be 270 kilometers, and we are getting around 240 kilometers. It’s just a little disheartening, but I am sure they are still working on a few updates,” says Thakwani. In fact, he took the car to the service center regarding the range issue, and the range got better after a few updates by the company, he says.

The issue of electric cars not living up to the claims of companies was brought to the forefront last week when the Delhi government suspended the subsidy to Tata Motors’ Nexon EV after it received a complaint from a customer who claimed to have never gotten more than 200 kilometers per charge on his Nexon EV despite Tata Motors claiming 312 kilometers of range on a full battery. However, this is a knee-jerk reaction that would come in the way of EV adoption, say all electric owners BusinessLine spoke; what should have been done was to make sure companies don’t resort to misleading marketing gimmicks that claim a higher range, they say.

Nashik-based 38-year-old Gautam*, who did not wish to reveal his real name, for instance, is a Nexon EV owner who got a range of only 200 kilometers. He cannot emphasise enough on how there is a need to regulate the misleading claims manufacturers make about range. “Manufacturers claim that they do a 10 lakh kilometer testing and all that, which means they know the real capacity. If they are consumer centric and consumer focussed, what really needs to be done is to inform the customer of the real-world range. Or they need to give a lower figure and an upper figure - so that our decisions are informed decisions.”

Nexon EV-owner Arora also says: “180-220 kilometers is the range which not only me, but the maximum number of people/owners (of the Nexon EV) get if it is driven under normal conditions. The normal conditions include traffic, starts and stops, usage of the AC/heater, the climate outside, the number of occupants in the vehicle and their luggage, speed etc.”

Even though this is not an issue that is specific to electric cars, the dearth of charging infrastructure makes it more problematic for electric cars, Gautam points out. Due to the availability of a petrol pump every two kilometers or so, it wouldn’t translate to an issue in the case of ICE cars - people rarely even get around to noticing that an ICE car’s mileage is lower than what the company claims, he reminds. “In our case, specific to the Nexon, people got it for commutes planned around the 250-260 km mark. I have not used the car beyond the city due to the limitations….nor is there infrastructure available that I could use.”

Electric owners also speak of how the change in driving style that would be needed while driving an electric car compared to an ICE car was not explained to them, which would also be key to attaining a better range. Since people are still new to EVs, there is a need for companies to develop dedicated helplines to address issues relating to EVs, as well as explain how electric cars have to be driven, they say. There is also a need to standardise the rate of charging at charging stations so that private owners do not take advantage, says Thakwani.

Notwithstanding all these factors, the electric car owners BusinessLine spoke to swear by electric cars, including the ones who have faced issues. As early adopters of EVs, most of them knew that there would be challenges. As Thakwan argues, “We bought the vehicle with the mindset that there will be certain issues that we will be need to understand that you are doing something good for the future also. So you need to have that kind of patience and understanding.”

Rakesh R Binrajka, 30, a Hyderabad-based businessman who owns seven cars in total, hasn’t returned to his ICE cars once ever since he purchased the MG ZS EV last month. “The MG ZS is such a lovely car that I don't feel like using the other cars,” he says. What is more, he is also planning to replace all his cars with electric cars within the next 3-4 years. “I was about to buy the Kia Seltos, I loved its design. But somewhere I felt that when you are purchasing a car in today’s time, I’m taking the wrong step by again purchasing a car run on fuel, which is expensive now and is going to get even more expensive in the future. That was when my father told me: look at the future and shift immediately. If there is an electric car available in the market today, make the shift.”

While he admits that had he waited, there would have been better electric car options coming up in the future, it was all about taking that step towards the environment, too. “I am staying in Hyderabad, and the air quality index here is pretty much under control, but if you look at places like Delhi, it’s heavily polluted.”

Besides, with fuel prices soaring, the cost savings are becoming all the more evident to electric car owners; even as they paid a heavy upfront cost for their electric cars whose gas guzzling variants are way cheaper.

While using his ICE car, Delhi-based Vivek Ahuja, 48, used to pay a monthly sum of Rs 20,000 on fuel, and now, for charging his Nexon EV, he is paying Rs 900-1000 as electricity bill.

Gurgaon based Sanjay Gupta, 57, has been using electric cars since 2002, starting with Mahindra’s Reva. Now, he owns an MG ZS EV and Mahindra E2o as well. “I must have saved around Rs 10 lakh rupee just on fuel with all the three cars up until now,” he says. It’s a drive to keep his carbon footprints as low as possible and an overarching consciousness about the environment that propelled him to turn to EVs at a time when it wasn’t even as popular as it is now.

The powerful and instant torque of electric cars, and the lack of a lag - unlike ICE cars - is another factor they talk about. “While electric cars are charged a premium price for sure, you cannot put a price on the experience of driving an EV, because it drives way better, more smoother; it has an instant pick-up, and the running cost is really low,” says Akhil Krishnan, 35, a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, who bought the Hyundai Kona in September 2019.

Bangalore-based Arun Bhat, 34, bought the Hyundai Kona in August 2019, and he has owned Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars in the past. “Having driven all that, the Kona is a far superior technology car than all those, and I will never go back to ICE cars now.” Bhat rues the arguments used by people that electric cars rely on thermal power and hence, aren't as clean as they are purported to be. “The thing is, an electric grid can become cleaner over time. Diesel and petrol do not become cleaner over time, and India doesn't have any reserve, it has to import. Solar and wind power are coming up, so the electric grid can become cleaner over time, which petrol and diesel cannot.”

At the end of the day, regardless of the issues they have faced, electric car owners are convinced their decision was a step in the right direction . For instance, even as he is disgruntled by the lower than promised range, Gautam says without a minute’s hesitation that his next purchase will also be an electric car.

The shift to EVs, they feel, is simply long overdue.

*Name changed to protect identity