Sohinder Singh Gill of Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles explains why social distancing, environmental consciousness and links between pollution and viruses could result in a boost for electric vehicles.
Blue skies by the day and a star-studded spectacle by night were the simple joys of life that most Indian cities had forgotten about till the national lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19 disease, came about. Over the course of the past several weeks since March 24, pollution levels have come down drastically which may auger well for the future of electric mobility in the country, something that has been touted as a solution against vehicular emissions.
Electric vehicles have been increasing their presence the world over with the United States, for instance, selling more of these than cars with manual transmission in all of 2019. Norway is often referred to as a pioneer in clean mobility while China, the world's biggest EV market, recently extended subsidy on electric cars up to a certain price point for another year. India may have come to the electric party a little late but 2019 was an eventful year with new players and brand new products. And while the Covid-19 pandemic may have slammed the brakes on the auto industry in general, there is a slight potential for it to be a blessing in disguise for the electric vehicle space in India in the times to come.
"There is a ray of hope on the horizon from three things," Sohinder Singh Gill, Director General at Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles and Global CEO at Hero Electric, told HT Auto in a video interaction. "One is that there is decidedly a linkage that is established between pollution and viruses. People in polluted places are more susceptible to viruses. Second is the clean air during lockdown. People are realising that some of it is because of the vehicles we have been using. Third is safety and as soon as lockdown is over, how many people would venture into public transport is anybody's guess."
Gill said that the combination of the three factors is likely to give a boost to the EV segment in the country as more people would now look at owning their own vehicles while doing their bit for the environment.
Electric vehicles sales, excluding e-rickshaws, had jumped 20% to 1.56 lakh units in 2019-20 from 1.3 lakh units in 2018-19 in India. A large proportion of these were electric two-wheelers. Gill is of the firm belief that electric two-wheelers and entry-level electric cars would find more takers in the times to come. "A family which already has a car and is looking at another vehicle is likely to consider an electric vehicle. Someone with a scooter or using public transport will also look at having an electric vehicle. Now is the time to put one million or two million electric vehicles of affordable category on the roads because that is where the customer is going to run and get a vehicle," he said, adding that after BS 6, petrol two-wheelers on road have started becoming as costly as ₹85,000 and above. "70% of electric two-wheelers today are less than ₹85,000. Gone are the days when electric vehicles were twice as expensive as petrol vehicles."
And while electric vehicles may possibly become cheaper and come with obvious benefits of a lower running cost and no emission, the question of charging infrastructure would remain, something Gill is not shy to acknowledge. "Government would want to use money to help the poor and get the economy back. (Charging) Infrastructure (process) may take a hit," he said, adding though that the option of portable batteries in most two and three-wheelers could be a viable solution.
The solution to the woes of the automobile industry though may not present itself in a hurry. But with reports predicting global electric vehicle and electric vehicle infrastructure market to reach 4.18 million units by 2021 from an estimated 3.42 million units in 2020, the EV space could come up with renewed energy from present times.