Electric scooters are to India as electric cars are to the United States. Because scooters are the most popular types of vehicles in the South Asian subcontinent, it is evident that electric mobility and the green revolution would be carried out through this popular vehicle type. Electric scooters will help usher in the electrification of transportation in the world’s second most populous nation. India is sure to lead that department and even own the scooter sector, amidst the sea of challenges, thanks to the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its homegrown talents.
Electric vehicle sales up in India
The fledgling Indian electric vehicle industry is experiencing some growth during the previous fiscal year. Sales of electric vehicles, both two-wheelers and four-wheelers, went up by 37.5%, with 22,000 units sold in the fiscal year 2015-2016, which concluded on March 31 this year. The fiscal year 2014-2015 saw 16,000 units sold. According to figures released by the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), 20,000 of the electric units sold were two-wheelers, while 2,000 were four-wheelers. India is the second largest market for two-wheelers after China.
21,000 electric vehicles (18,000 of which are hybrids) were sold between April and December 2015 alone, compared to 7,000-8,000 April and December 2014. Though this is an improvement, current figures pale in comparison to that of 2011-2012 which saw 130,000 electric units sold. This is even a disappointment as the electric vehicle industry have failed to reach the sales target of 35,000 units by the end of March 2016. India still has a very long way to go in achieving the target of 7 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.
Government initiatives to boost electric vehicle sales
The current electric vehicle market may be small, but it is surely an attractive one. Following the steps of Europe and the United States, India is empowering the market with their own schemes and incentives. The Indian government is actively promoting the mass adoption of electric scooters and other electric vehicles by offering potential buyers various incentives.
The government’s main scheme is the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan or NEMMP 2020. Under this plan, the government aims to mitigate the adverse impacts of vehicles that run on oil-based fuels and to enhance national energy security. Just like any other developing country, India is suffering from excessive pollution brought by the burning of coal and the use of petroleum by vehicles. The subcontinent is one of the largest energy consumers and importers of oil and petroleum products in the world. To tackle global climate change, India is encouraging the use of renewable and sustainable energy sources, and promoting the use of electric vehicles is part of NEMMP 2020, which expects the industry to sell 5 million electric units per year in the span of six years.
Part of the NEMMP 2020 is the scheme Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India or FAME India. Under this scheme, the government will incentivize the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles, offering up to Rs 29,000 ($430) for scooters and motorcycles and up to Rs 1.38 lakh ($1,500) for cars. Battery-operated two-wheelers can receive between Rs 1,800 ($27) to Rs 29,000 ($430), depending on their technology.
Local companies get into the electric scooter game
The Indian government has played a vital role in the promotion of electric vehicles, most especially electric scooters. The incentives they are offering is more than enough, and much of it has not even been utilized. Auto manufacturers should get into the game, and good thing the locals are more than happy to play their part.
Established companies and start-ups are shaping the electric scooter market. Multinational auto manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is investing vast resources on its two-wheelers and is looking to expand its product portfolio and establish research centers worldwide. The company is banking on government subsidy, a factor which will help them price their units better. The company suffered with their flagship two-seater electric car Reva and have delayed the launch of their four-seater unit as they are expecting the government to roll out incentives.
Electric scooter manufacturer Hero Electric saw the air pollution situation as a great opportunity to promote their scooters. They had rolled out a fleet of 100 electric scooters to offer free rides to the riding public.
Thanks to funds from investors, start-up Ather Energy is developing a prototype of a smart electric scooter that will run a top speed of 75 km/h and take less than an hour to charge – better features than a typical electric scooter than runs 25 km/h and takes eight hours to charge. The Ather scooter will be 20% lighter than its petroleum-powered counterpart. Like any other electric vehicle, it will operate on a lithium-ion battery pack. The Ather scooter will feature different driving modes, navigation (Google Maps using GPRS or GPS on an Android dashboard), and even smartphone connectivity, and its developers are looking to incorporate real-time traffic data, sensors, and other software that will allow riders the benefit of riding an intelligent vehicle.
Other players in the electric scooter game also include Tork Motors, Electrotherm (India) Ltd, EKO, TVS, BSA Motors, and Terra Motors. They are all doing their share of the electrification of transportation, which will start with scooters.
Challenges of the Indian electric scooter industry
Any large and developing (or well-developed) country that is pursuing a mass adoption of electric vehicles is not without a few challenges, and India is no exemption. For one, India is grappling with the lack of awareness among the populace. According to SMEV director and CEO of Hero Electric Sohindeer Gill, only 30% of customers in India are aware about electric vehicles, and people are not even aware of the incentives available. The lack of awareness of electric vehicles among commuters and in the workplace has caused the very slow offtake of electric vehicles, and thus the lack of market. Government should conduct large-scale awareness programs if it aims to meet its ambitious target of 7 million by 2020.
Another pressing issue is the lack of charging stations. Without adequate charging infrastructure, people will not have a reliable option for switching to electric vehicles, particularly electric scooters. As private businesses do not provide such facility and petrol station are hesitant about putting up charging points, government should lead the charge. As most houses in key Indian cities are multi-storeyed, it should consider building charging stations at the most convenient locations, such as parking lots, marketplaces, community centers, and dedicated lanes, and at regular distance.
Like electric cars in the US, electric scooters in India also suffer from price stigma. Most scooter and motorcycle owners belong to the middle class. Being one of the most cost-sensitive consumers in the world, Indians will consider the economical aspects of purchasing a new technology such as an electric scooter. And as there is the issue of range, they would not purchase a vehicle that registers a limited range. Government can address this with incentives and adequate charging facilities. On their part, engineers need to develop units that boast of better mileage and tweak existing battery technology.
There is also the challenge of 100% localization. Electric scooter makers are partnering with foreign auto manufacturers to learn about their technology so they can apply it in India. Mahindra & Mahindra, Ather Energy, and Tork Motors are aiming for scooters that is 100% “Made in India”. But for this to happen, India should stop sourcing parts and components from abroad, especially China, and engineers and other professionals in the automotive industry should focus on design thinking and own intellectual property in design and software in order to make India a product nation. This will even help improve the quality of Indian electric scooters as parts are manufactured and assembled right in the base country.