Electric vehicles not cool enough for GenY (With Images)

February 8th, 2009 - 11:50 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) Sanjiv Sharma, a city-based hospitality consultant, plans to buy a car. His first. And like most of his peers he is certainly concerned about the rising cost of fuel. Yet he has ruled out electric vehicles: He doesn’t find them cool enough.

“I am planning to buy a car but don’t think it will be an electric model like Reva. It’s not very stylish. And how will I charge it if the battery runs out?” asks 26-year-old Sharma.

The concept of electric vehicles may have caught the fancy of several Indian corporate houses into developing prototypes, but they are yet to make an impact on the segment that ultimately matters: young buyers.

There is much to do before an electric vehicle-equivalent of “Hamara Bajaj” emerges on the Indian automobile landscape as an answer to urban mobility. Here’s why:

The most crucial factors impeding growth is the limited range of these vehicles owing to insufficient battery capacity and absence of charging points in cities, say experts and prospective buyers alike.

That is probably why the number of electric vehicles sold remains low. Bangalore-based electric car manufacturer Reva has managed to sell just over 500 vehicles this fiscal against a target of 1,000.

Hero Electric, on the other hand, has sold about 4,100 electric scooters since its inception (2007).

An electric scooter or car requires six-eight hours of charging to attain full capacity giving a scooter a maximum range of 50-70 km while a four-wheeler can go up to 80 km, on existing lead-acid battery technology.

“The solution to fossil fuels is certainly in electric vehicles. But we have to find ways by which customers can charge batteries with ease,” said Naveen Munjal, managing director of the Delhi-based Hero Electric, which sells electric scooters.

“We also need next-generation batteries to extend the mileage of vehicles,” Munjal told IANS.

Reva is launching a new model powered by advanced Lithium-ion battery technology.

“This will give the vehicle a 120-km range, ideal for city conditions. The new battery will also allow consumers to recharge in an hour,” said Reva deputy chairman and chief technical officer Chetan Kumaar Maini.

Yet, once you zoom out of home on your electric vehicle, you will have to come back to recharge if you want to keep driving. Indian cities still do not have enough charging stations to cater to such vehicles.

“We have 12 charging stations in Delhi and are putting up more. But how many stations can a private company like us put in? We definitely need help from the government and coordination among other players,” Munjal added.

The price of electric cars starts at Rs.350,000 - steep given that you could buy a Hyundai Santro, Maruti-Suzuki Zen and Wagon-R, or a Chevrolet Spark at that price.

“Multi-level taxation in different states take away the incentive to bring down prices. What we need is a uniform tax regime for electric vehicles and a cut in import duties,” said Maini, adding such vehicles remained the most promising alternative to fossil-fuel powered automobiles.

“How long can one depend on fossil fuels? They are bound to run out in the next 30-40 years. Then what? People will have to fall back on new technology,” Munjal said.

But like hospitality consultant Sharma, these arguments are not persuading Prahlad Sarmah, a real estate broker, from buying an EV.

“Sure I want to save money, but I don’t want to drive around in a gizmo that looks like a toy,” said Sarmah, 29. But he has greater concerns.

“My girlfriend will die giggling every time she sees me in it.”

(James Jose can be contacted at james.jose@ians.in)

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