Auto focus

‘There are social responsibility issues with EVs’

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 08, 2018

Rahil Ansari

Audi’s India Head indicates need for a robust infrastructure before electric push

Audi’s presentation at the recently concluded Frankfurt Motor Show was dominated by electrics and autonomous driving vehicles. Starting with the next generation A8, which is already set to roll out with Level 3 autonomous driving tech, Audi also showcased two autonomous driving concept vehicles under its new ‘ai’ nomenclature. Rahil Ansari, Head, Audi India speaks to S Muralidhar about the future of electrics in India, GST, and the challenges ahead.

How realistic do you think is the Centre’s target for 100 per cent e-mobility by 2030?

I think it is a courageous step. It is also right in the sense of announcing a target, independent of whether it is realistic, because everyone has to achieve it and that’s the deadline.

Now when it comes to achieving the target, it is still a long way. Of course, the Government has announced a couple of projects but it is not about launching an EV because this is the easiest part. The question is your responsibility and that’s what you have to ask when launching an EV.

Setting up charging stations across the country is going to be a challenge and we need a roadmap for it. And this cannot be defined by a single stakeholder but everyone, right from the Government and electricity companies to the users who pay the bill every month.

Just imagine someone going to Shimla runs out of battery and there is no charging station. You then need to get another charged battery or you are stranded. At the moment, EVs are very expensive as they are built at a low scale. With full scale production, development happens much faster and cost of batteries will be much lower.

Isn’t the lack of environment consciousness also a deterrent in India?

I do not quite agree with you on this because there is a larger tendency of environment-friendly thinking nowadays. The requirement of low emission vehicles is increasing in Europe and will at some stage reach out to a larger extent. Affordability plays a crucial role in this because it is nice if you are eco-friendly but then if you have to pay a big surcharge, not everyone will be willing to do this.

India will soon catch up but bear in mind that this market is completely different from the rest of the world. Case in point, the floods in Mumbai. What do we do with EVs in floodwaters, making sure there are no problems with the high voltage batteries and circuitry? These are social responsibility issues for the Government, manufacturers and battery producers that need to be resolved first.

When do you see the transition to EVs happening?

All manufacturers are focusing on EVs and you will have a range available within the next 30 years. If I look at Audi globally, we are launching three EVs until 2020 and adding till 2025 each year. We are expecting one-third of our entire volume globally to be EVs. Other manufacturers are also planning them and demand will automatically be generated.

What is the added value of an EV? Looking at India, we know pollution is a big concern in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The message after GST was surprising that hybrids were not really favoured. It was also clear that it is 100 per cent EV or nothing.

In the absence of interim solutions, how helpful is that target?

Well, there are multiple factors where the claims sound absurd. Where is the power going to come from if 10 million people take to EVs? There is no plan to replace the power plants with other sustainable types of plants. They expect people to go solar where prices are not showing any signs of falling.

The Government will have to answer on what we do with power cuts. There is no roadmap in place for charging infrastructure and that is why we said we will launch in India only if we have the answers to these questions.

How was GST affected Audi’s plans?

I think GST was a very good step in bringing India under an uniform tax regime. Five weeks later, the discussion started that cess may increase. This created a lot of uncertainty for manufacturers and consumers. Then came the implementation on September 9, which was not favourable.

I am personally disappointed and even if the rumoured increase of 10 per cent didn’t happen, it is now two, five and seven. The slab is creating confusion for consumers. The Government has created more complexity for everyone just two months after GST was implemented. This is not right because if you want to evaluate its impact on revenue, you need to wait for sixto 12 months.

You have been in network development for many years at Audi, including in India. Is it a challenge to find partners who understand the brand?

When I started in 2011 as Head of dealer development, it was easy to get people to invest in and run a dealership. They wanted to do business with Audi although it was difficult to find people who really understood the brand.

We ideally look for someone with an automotive background, who understands what Audi stands for, backed by good financials. But this person should also have the vision to bring Audi to the next level. Nowadays, I think brand awareness has increased. There are a lot of nice showrooms/workshops and that is something we have done really well in terms of strategy.

We will not increase the dealer network drastically but focus on enhancement instead; especially on the workshop front. With the concept of ‘workshop first’ we will go into smaller cities where we have customers. The clear philosophy is not to aggressively increase the number of touch points but make sure that we grow in those areas.

You will find people who want to invest but I think over time they have realised that it’s not easy to run an automotive dealership. Those who have applied for a dealership outside of the industry know that operations are quite a challenge especially in the luxury segment. Customers are price-sensitive independent of whether they are buying an A3 or a Q7.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on October 05, 2017
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor