Stage set for a strong e-mobility wave in 2019

Sohinder Gill | Updated on: Jan 24, 2019

Innovative ideas will take the story to the next level

When one looks back at the year that went by and what it meant for electric vehicles in India, it largely epitomised chaos and confusion on the policy front.

It was a time when fence-sitters were still wondering if it is the right time to get into the EV business. However, some of the old diehards like Sun Mobility, Hero Electric and Mahindra & Mahindra continued to fiercely pursue their passion as if they had already factored policy indecisiveness into their strategies!

It was also a year when startups such as Ather, Zoomcar, Vogo and Lithium Balance aggressively ventured into development of differentiated products as well as into smart connectivity, bike sharing/rental, bike taxis and deliveries.

New and big names from unrelated businesses right from the Essel group and Modis to the Mittals and Kalyanis also brushed the fringes of the EV arena with their foot-in-the-door strategies.

The initiative by the state-run Energy Efficiency Services (EESL) deserves special mention for the right intentions but not so right planning. Entry-level electric cars are not meant to run for long distances and rough/tough usage and that’s what these cars ended up being subjected to, prematurely calling off the experiment.

With oil prices on the rise and pollution becoming a huge challenge to contend with in some big cities, the clamour for electric vehicles as a solution for clean air got louder. While Karnataka and Telangana announced big fiscal sops to promote EVs, other states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab followed suit with a lot of noise but no serious follow-ups.

Some like Delhi were late risers but had no choice but to join the bandwagon when November pollution levels went out of control and they came up with grandiose ideas. Others have still to rise to the occasion and do their bit in cleaning up the environment.

The policy front

Even if the policy front was confusing, it wouldn’t be fair to label the efforts of the decision-makers as random or erratic. Six ministries (and dozens within them) were continuously wracking their brains to find the right solution for putting e-mobility on the high growth trajectory.

Needless to add, there was extensive lobbying by those with vested interests. Despite all this pressure, the people entrusted with the policy did indeed give their valued inputs that were practical and rational. By the end of the day, good sense prevailed and the latter part of 2018 saw a positive and cohesive thought process emerging on how India should promote EVs. While the year that went by could be summed up as one of cautious optimism, 2019 could be a turning point for e-mobility which could see a slew of innovative ideas. These include the green number plate, special licences to allow youth in the age group of 16-18 to ride electric two-wheelers, exemption for permits for EVs in commercial space, experimenting with a few thousand electric buses, allowing e-bike taxi operations and many more.

In the electric space, two-wheelers and e-ricks are the fastest growing, followed by e-buses and e-cars. Nearly 1.1 lakh two-wheelers and over three lakh e-ricks were sold in 2018.

Radical ideas required

One of the bold, yet fiercely opposed ideas is to levy a green cess on IC-engine two wheelers based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. This is intended to create a fund that will help in bringing down the cost of electric two wheelers for a year or two in order to put the first million on the road. Though a welcome step for EVs in India, implementing it will need a lot of guts.

The next logical step is to start a massive awareness campaign that will sensitise the general public about the advantages of EVs. Creating simple and basic charging infrastructure will further give a thrust to their acceptance. Bike sharing and rentals will also help towards the cause of lower pollution and traffic congestion.

Reducing the GST levels both on lithium-ion batteries and EVs will help in making them more affordable. Likewise, mandating a certain percentage of e-bikes for use by courier services, food delivery services and e-commerce companies will help spread the word on electric mobility.

The EV industry has been working relentlessly towards the creation of a greener future and robust e-vehicle economy. It is important for the industry and policy-makers to work in tandem and help increase their use in India. Eventually, it is the end-user who will need to appreciate the need for clean air and gradually wean away from fossil fuels while buying vehicles.

The writer is Director General, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles

Published on January 24, 2019
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