electric car
Electric car being charged in city streetGetty Images

With the future of automobile industry leaning heavily towards electric vehicles (EVs), more and more countries in the world are on the path to embrace the same. Taking cue, the Indian government has jumped on the bandwagon trying to convince the populace that EVs hold the aces in the future personal transportation.

"Whether you like it or not," Nitin Gadkari, Union transport minister is quoted as saying, "the future of our mobility should be alternative fuel." 

Maybe it is just a step towards the dream of having a world free of carbon-based fuels but such a big push for electric vehicles in a growing economy like India has already made automakers go back to their drawing tables to embrace the looming shift from the current fuel-based models to electric cars. 

Yet it has not gone down without contentious issues being raised on whether the rush to embrace what is believed to be a relatively new solution to mobility is possible in a country like ours.

Without a shadow of doubt, India needs to be ready sooner or later to go electric as the air quality in most of its cities is depleting with each passing day. But are we ready to say goodbye to fuel stations?

There are still some real questions to ponder in the ensuing debates on EVs and the new era of mobility. How prepared are we? Are we ready as a country to embrace the EVs push? The resounding answer seems to be a deafening No! This is not just because of the opposing forces that are slowing down the momentum but some practical problems that need to be addressed.

Firstly, we are woefully challenged when it comes to the EV infrastructure.

Currently, Mahindra and Mahindra is the only company in India selling electric cars and the Lithium battery it uses for powering its EVs is imported. This is the main reason for such a high price. Considering the fact that India is a price sensitive market, manufacturing the battery cells locally is an absolute necessity.

A Financial Express report says that the current price of lithium-ion batteries is $250/kWh globally and for a market like in India, this will have to be brought down to almost $100/kWh to make it viable. In 2017, the price of battery came down to $250/kWh from the $600. It is forecast that the prices could even come down to below $200/kWh by 2019.

Secondly, for India to be ready for EVs, the battery charging stations will have to be a focus area. So far, there seems to be no clear plan on how this will be developed. Can India meet the electricity demand to power EVs?

To answer the question, the country will first have to be ready to offer 24-hour electricity to households. At the moment, that remains a distant dream. But assuming the same is met, there is the long charging time of the electric vehicles to be looked into. For this to be achieved, the technology in use will have to evolve.

Take for instance Mahindra e2o EV. It takes a minimum of 5-6 hours to charge it and the driving distance with the current battery is limited to short range.

The case of Oslo, in Norway, which is recognised as the EV capital of the world, offers insights into the challenges we are confronted with. As of July 2016, the market concentration of Norway was 21.5 registered plug-in cars per 1,000 people, 14.2 times higher than the U.S. The fleet of plug-in electric vehicles in Norway is the largest per capita in the world. Norway was the first country in the world to have all-electric cars topping the new car sales monthly ranking. As of March 2016, Norwegian charging infrastructure includes quick charging points and fast charging points at Tesla supercharger stations.

For China, it plans to build 12,000 charging stations to meet the demand of over 5 million electric vehicles by 2020. Also, the country is said to be planning to build 4.8 million power poles, 3,850 charging stations for public buses and 2,500 for taxis during the same period, as reported by News.xinhuanet.

In order to facilitate the development of the support systems and infrastructure for EVs, India should be ready for huge investments in the sector. Yet there are also risks as there is uncertainty over the demand for EVs in the country.

A recent report of NITI Aayog says "there is a risk on investment as companies shift their strategic models, supply chains, and facilities from product-oriented to service-oriented production' and 'high cost of importing EV parts is also prohibitive to producing EVs'. The solution that the reports proposes is to boost the confidence of makers by incentivising EVs and 'establishing a collaborative consortium to develop standardised batteries and common components for electrified mobility service vehicles; these partnerships should share R&D, harmonise strategy, aggregate supply chains and manufacturing."

While there are no immediate and speedy solutions for such questions and challenges, what the industry and the government should do is to have an action-plan. Even with that, India as a country should be looking at the development and integration of EVs in an organised and phased-manner.