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India’s electric car initiatives

India’s electric car initiatives
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By Charles F. Moreira, Editor

India’s automobile manufacturing watchers expect the New Delhi based automobile maker Maruti Suzuki India Limited to make its debut in India’s electric car market within a few years from now.

Japanese automotive and motorcycle manufacture Suzuki has a 56.21% stake in its India joint-venture Maruti Suzuki and in February 2017, Suzuki partnered with Toyota to cooperate in technology development and mutual supply of products and components with the view to produce electric vehicles, according to The Hindu Business Line of 3 October 2017.

Work is underway, though final details still need to be worked out and Suzuki’s  electric car is expected to roll off the production line a few years from now.

According to Forbes of 28 September 2017, Mazda, Toyota and Toyota Group parts maker Denso established a joint venture EV C.A. Spirit in Japan to jointly develop basic structural technologies for electric vehicles.

Toyota has the lion’s share of 90% in the joint venture, whilst Mazda and Denso each hold 5%. According to reports, Suzuki is expected to join this alliance with a majority stake. However, so far, Toyota has no plans to sell electric in India.

This move by Maruti Suzuki is driven by government policies, both domestic and international.

On the domestic front, India’s government aims for India to have electric and alternative fuel vehicles by 2030, whilst on the international front, China has plans to mandate that a proportion of vehicles sold there from 2019 onwards will have to be ‘new energy’ vehicles. Meanwhile, several European countries have plans to ban petrol and diesel vehicles in favour of electric vehicles.

However, India is not new to electric vehicles, since when Maruti Suzuki’s electric car hits the market, the company will be the last of India’s electric car manufacturers to enter the market.

Bengaluru-based Revai Electric Car Company made a two-door ultra compact electric car called the REVAi between 2001 and 2012 and altogether sold about 4,600 units worldwide by late 2013, most of which were sold in the U.K. where it was branded as the G-Wiz.

Mahindra and Mahindra acquired Revai in May 2010, after which it launched its CitySmart electric hatchback, the e2oPlus in 2013. Mahindra and Mahindra also produce the eVerito electric sedan and the eSupro electric passenger and cargo vans.

Mahindra and Mahindra currently is India’s only electric vehicle manufacturer in the market, though Tata Motors is close to launching its electric vehicle. Both companies have already gone head to head in bidding in a tender to supply India’s state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) with their respective electric car models by 30 November 2017.

Mahindra and Mahindra bid to supply all 10,000 units whilst Tata bid to supply 5,000. Under the first phase, EESL offered Mahindra and Mahindra a contract to supply 500 electric vehicles after the company matched Tata’s lower bid of Rs1,016,000 (RM65,847) per vehicle but due to this lower bid, Mahindra and Mahindra agreed to supply only 150 units.

According to the LiveMint e-paper, Mahindra and Mahindra managing director Pawan Goenka said that his company stood to lose Rs30 million (RM1,944,670) on these 150 vehicles. However, considering that it could make a big loss on this tender, Mahindra and Mahindra is reconsidering reducing its original tender to supply 10,000 units to EESL.

Meanwhile, the EESL gave Tata Motors a contract for 250 units under the first phase and a company spokesperson reportedly said that its tendered price is based on a ‘sound business model’.

Tata Motors’ electric vehicle offering will come as an electric powered version of its current four-door, five seater, petrol and diesel powered Tigor compact sedan. The Electric Tigor will be manufactured at Tata’s Sanand plant in Gujarat to fulfil the EESL’s contract.

The very fact that the Electric Tigor basically is a version of the conventional Tigor already in the market except that it has an electric motor instead of a fuel-burning engine explains why Tata can tender the Electric Tigor at a lower price – i.e. it already has economies of scale.

Also, India Car News of 8 September 2017 reported that Tata Motors had unveiled the Tata Tiago (yes Tiago) electric concept car at the Low Carbon Emissions 2017 show in Millbrook, U.K. This concept electric car was developed by Tata’s U.K-based subsidiary – Tata Motors European Technical Centre (TMETC) and will provide electric technologies and features incorporated into the Electric Tigor to be supplied to the government.

Meanwhile, the Tiago Electric Vehicle is expected to be launched into the international market, possibly at the 2018 Delhi Auto Expo, whilst the Electric Tigor is expected to be launched into the India market in 2019.

These electric vehicles procured by the Government of India will be used to replace its fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles over the next three to four years.

The e2oPlus

Mahindra and Mahindra’s e2oPlus two-door electric hatchback is designed for city driving in terms of in-cabin temperature control, zero tailpipe emissions, battery conservation and energy efficiency.

Ten on-board computers track around 196 performance and health related parameters of the car and sends them to Mahindra and Mahindra which can detect impeding problems and be ready to fix them.

This data lets Mahindra and Mahindra make improvements to the car and the company will share regular progress reports with the customer, such as battery life-cycle statistics, maintenance and service requirements and improvements to make.

Charging stations are available around the city and the downloadable e2oPlus smartphone app lets customers know where the nearest charging stations are.

It also provides customers with information and control through their smartphones, such as its pre-cool feature which lets customers remotely set the cabin temperature of their car, remotely lock or unlock their car from their smartphone and access information about the health of their car and its charging schedules all on their phone.

Apart from regular reports on how the customer is saving on his carbon footprint, more significantly for the environment is that the e2oPlus’ body panels are made of multi-layer composites impregnated with the body colour, so no paint, chemicals or power for the paint shop are required in its manufacturer. These panels are also scratch and dent resistant, so at most any parts involved in a minor collision can just be buffed out to match the rest of the body.

The e2oPlus also saves energy in stop-start traffic typical during peak periods since each time the driver pressed the brake pedal or takes his foot off the accelerator its regenerative braking system kicks in and uses the car’s kinetic energy to recharge the battery.

Being electric powered enables the car to readily take off once the traffic lights turns green and just in case the battery runs out, the driver can use the e2oPlus app or call Mahindra and Mahindra’s call centre which will activate the company’s patented REVive technology which will provide sufficient reserve battery charge to get to the nearest charging point or to get home.

This is like the Honda Cub compact motorcycle which had a tap which the rider turned to let the engine draw from a reserve amount of petrol at the bottom of the tank when the petrol in the main part of the tank ran out; and continue to the nearest petrol station to refuel.

The e2oPlus’ 4.6 metre turning circle makes the car ideal for turning around and taking alternate routes to escape traffic jams, its ‘Hill-Hold’ feature prevents the car from rolling backwards or forwards when on a slope before the driver presses the accelerator and it has a reverse camera for easier and safer reversing.

The battery of the P8 variant has a range of 140km on full charge with a top speed of 85 kmph. It’s energy efficiency is claimed to be 70 paise or Rp0.7 (4.5sen) per kilometre, whilst fewer moving parts mean fewer breakdowns and lower maintenance costs. Electric vehicle owners in India also enjoy tax exemptions, subsidies and other government incentives, whilst self employed and businesses accelerated depreciation benefits such as tax savings of up to Rs160,000 (RM10,375) in the first year itself

The eVerito

Mahindra and Mahindra’s eVerito four-door, five-seater electric sedan comes in D2, D4 and D6 variants and has the key features of the e2oPlus, including the telematics, intelligent energy management and REVive features mentioned above and more. For instance, it has a range of 110 km on a single charge, a top speed of 86 kmph, a running cost of Rs 1.15 (7.4 sen) per kilometre, boost mode for additional power, all models have a charging time of 8 hours and 45 minutes whilst the D6 variant can be fast-charged in 1 hour and 45 minutes, the D4 and D6 variants come with a 2-DIN Audio System with Audio, USB port and Auxiliary socket.

It’s wheelbase is 2.63 metres, its turning circle radius is 5.25 metres, it has a boot space of 510 litres and all models come with safety features such as collapsible steering column, side intrusion protection beams, digital immobiliser, auto door lock whilst driving, child lock on rear doors, prismatic rear view mirrors and more.

The eSupro 3

Mahindra and Mahindra’s latest electric vehicle is its eSupro 3 electric van, which comes in two variants – i.e. a cargo van with seats for a driver and co-driver and an 8-seater passenger van. The cargo variant is said to be India’s first closed body van, making it suitable for transport goods, courier packages and high-value items with greater security. The passenger variant is said to be India’s first electric passenger van.

It’s loading bay is 6 foot long by 4 foot wide (1.82 x 1.21 metres), its loading volume is 2,330 litres with a maximum payload of 600 kg. The van is 3.798 metres long, 1.54 metres wide, is 1.922 metres high, wheelbase of 1.950 metres and a ground clearance of 13 cm.

It has a top speed of 60 kmph, the passenger version has a range of 112 km, the cargo version has a range of 115km, its electric motor delivers 25kW of power and 90 Nm torque for a smooth drive and its instrument cluster provides important information such as state of charge (battery %), distance to empty (dte), speed, gear engaged, total running and e-gen efficiency.

Both variants come with a 2 years warranty on the vehicle and a 3 years warranty on its battery or 40,000 km in both cases. It also has regenerative braking, boost mode and REVive but does not come with remote monitoring, control and diagnostic features of the cars.

Meanwhile, in September 2017, Mahindra and Mahindra and the US-based Ford Motor Company partnered to work on mobility programmes, connected vehicle projects, electrification and product development. The partnership will also help Ford extend its reach in India and other emerging markets and help Mahindra to expand into other international markets.

Tata Electric Tigor

The Electric Tigor will have a liquid-cooled 80kW electric motor delivering 240Nm (Newton-metres) torque, a range of 100km and a top speed of 135 kmph.

Based upon the performance of the Tiago concept car, the Electric Tigor is expected to be able to accelerate from 0 to 100 kmph in under 11 seconds in sport mode.

Other Tiago EV features which could make their way into the Electric Tigor include front-wheel drive with a six-speed gearbox and newly designed refrigerant cooled Lithium-ion battery.

Besides that, since the Electric Tigor is an electric-powered version of current conventional Tigor, we can have an idea of its other specifications based upon those of the conventional Tigor.

The petrol or diesel powered Tigor is 3.992 metres long, 1.677 metres wide, 1.537 metres high, has a wheelbase of 2.45 metres, ground clearance of 17cm (0.17 metres), 419 litres boot space, 5.1 metres minimum turning radius, 1,13 Kg kerb weight, electric power steering, air conditioner or heater and a music system in the basic models, whilst more premium models also have rear parking sensor, electrically adjustable rear view mirror, keyless entry, rear parking camera, cabin climate control, GPS navigation plus other features.

Afterthought

One of the key benefits of electric cars, especially to the general public is that they do not pump exhaust gases into the atmosphere in populated areas such as in commercial and residential areas, which would definitely result in a cleaner and less toxic environment for us.

However, in the bigger picture, the additional demand for electric power supply which will definitely result, will merely transfer that demand for energy source from the fuel tanks of cars to the electricity power stations, many of which are still powered by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, controversial nuclear fuel, renewable energy sources such as hydro power, solar power and wind power.

Since not all locations are suitable for hydro, solar and wind electricity generation; where they are not then especially the fossil-fuelled power stations will have to burn more fuel to cope with the increased demand for electricity and more may have to be built to meet that demand, so they instead of cars will be pumping more fossil fuel exhaust into the atmosphere.

So whilst pollution control can be better and more professionally managed centrally at fossil-fuelled power stations, still it does not necessarily mean significantly less demand for fossil fuels.

Well, as that northern English saying goes – “You don’t get owt for nowt” (You don’t get something for nothing) or to put it another way – There’s no free lunch.

Also, electric cars are not new, since various electric cars were produced in Europe and the United States in the mid-1800s and by the turn of the 20th Century, 38% of cars in the United States were electric powered.

Thomas Edison and an electric car in 1913 courtesy of the National Museum of American History

However, they were relatively slow with speeds of between 20 and 32 kmph and their limited range of 50 to 65 km limited their use to within the city.

Then by the 1920s, the expansion of the road infrastructure necessitated cars with a longer range and coupled with discoveries of more petroleum resources, led to wider availability of more affordable petrol, thus making petrol powered cars cheaper to operate over long distances and by 1912 an electric car sold for twice the price of a petrol powered car.

Petrol cars became even cheaper with the introduction of assembly line manufacturing by Henry Ford in 1913 and that spelled the end of electric cars in the United States.

Now history seems to be repeating itself in the early 21st Century, as is apparent in the revival of interest in electric cars.

However, as we can see from the specifications of the latter-day electric cars above, their speed and range are limited compared to their petrol and diesel cousins today and unless enough charging stations are built and available widely enough, the current rise in popularity of electric cars could well stall and decline, just as they did about 100 years ago, especially if crude oil prices remain at the current low levels.

It could turn out like how the Malaysian government tried to popularise the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) powered cars in the mid 1980s but they were caught in a chicken and egg situation where without wide enough availability of petrol stations selling LPG, few private motorists would convert their cars to LPG and without sufficient demand for LPG, few petrol stations would install LPG refilling facilities. So in the end, mostly taxis today are LPG powered, whilst few private cars and commercial vehicles are.

So the same can happen with electric cars and if governments around the worlds enforce their adoption but their prices do not go down, whilst their speed and range do not increase and there are not enough fast-charging stations; such enforcement could turn out to be politically unpopular and governments may well have to relent and give up on enforcement.

So it’s still too early to say that electric cars will be a hit with the motoring public and become the norm in private and commercial vehicles in the future.

 

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