India’s EV goals are being realised on two wheels, not four

Reuters | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Two-wheeler firms in top gear even as carmakers bemoan policy gaps

Hurt by high fuel prices, Vinod Gore, a farmer in Gove village in Maharashtra, ditched his petrol scooter for an electric model, underlining how two-wheelers are driving the country’s goal of electrification of its vehicles.

Gore’s electric scooter, built by start-up Okinawa, runs for about 100-120 km on a single charge which costs the sugarcane farmer less than 10 per cent of the ₹150 he would otherwise have spent on fuel for the same distance.

“I bought it to save money,” said Gore, who paid ₹75,000 for the scooter and expects to recover the cost in two to three years in terms of savings on petrol and maintenance.

The Narendra Modi government has set a target of electric vehicles (EVs) making up 30 per cent of new sales of cars and two-wheelers by 2030 from less than 1 per cent today. But its efforts to convince carmakers to produce EVs have flopped mainly because of no clear policy to incentivise local manufacturing and sales, lack of public charging infrastructure and a high cost of batteries.

Cost-conscious two-wheeler buyers like Gore might be a better bet. It would also open up a new market for global companies like Japan’s Yamaha Motor and Suzuki Motor that are drawing up initial plans to launch electric scooters and motorcycles in the country.

The potential is huge. India is the world’s biggest market for scooters and motorcycles with annual domestic sales exceeding 19 million in FY18, six times that of car sales over the same period.

Electric scooters make up a fraction of the total but are growing fast. In FY18, sales more than doubled to 54,800 from a year ago while electric car sales fell to 1,200 from 2,000 over the same period, according to data from the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV).

By 2030, sales of electric scooters are expected to cross 2 million a year, even as most carmakers resist bringing electric cars to India.

Fewer speed-breakers

The roadblocks for scooters are fewer. Compared with cars, scooters are lighter, which means they can use less powerful batteries that are cheaper. The scooters can also be charged quickly and more easily, often using existing plug points in homes, and their price is similar to petrol-powered models.

The challenge is that most electric scooters sold today are utilitarian and not as powerful as models that run on petrol that can go faster and climb gradients easily. The supply chain is not robust which means manufacturers need to rely on importing components.

Importantly, electricity supply in smaller towns and cities, where demand is picking up, is irregular.

“India’s electric revolution will be led by two-wheelers. It is a value for money equation,” said Sohinder Gill, Global CEO of Hero Electric, the country’s top-selling e-scooter manufacturer.

Premium models

Most electric scooters currently on sale are basic in terms of design, range and performance so that the price can be kept affordable, especially in smaller towns where distances are shorter and buyers more frugal, said Kaushik Madhavan, Vice-President, Mobility at consultant Frost & Sullivan. But he added that there is also a market for more premium models like those made by Bengaluru-based start-up Ather Energy which are designed to appeal to tech-savvy city commuters.

Ather’s scooters are connected to the internet, come with a touchscreen and have a top speed of 80 kph. They cost about ₹1,31,000 — nearly twice the amount Gore paid.

Okinawa and Ather are both expanding their production facilities. While Okinawa is already building a new plant in northern India to more than treble its capacity to a million electric scooters a year, Ather is scouting for a site to set up its second plant.

“There is a line of sight now,” said Ravneet Phokela, Chief Business Officer at Ather. “There has never been a better time to be in this business than now,” he said.

Published on January 14, 2019
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