Everyone today wants a bigger battery or a longer lasting one in their smartphones. It is this battery anxiety that forces many to go in for a smartphone, with a larger capacity battery. Gone are the days where only power users demanded battery life, even Snapchatters and Pokémon Go users are seen lugging around battery packs. It’s this battery anxiety, the feeling of helplessness that forces many to curl and bend into choosing one device over another because we simply do not want to be left powerless at the end of a long work day.

And it is this same feeling that’s currently keeping many away from electric cars these days. Specifically in India. Call it range anxiety, but the feeling of being left stranded on a road is not a good one and will quickly diminish all those electric car dreams, no matter how fast they go or how fancy they are.

In short, everyone wants a dependable car. In India, this dependency is fuelled by the tens of thousands of fuel stations, across states, across the country. And this is exactly an area of concern that would make an electric car owner shudder when he or she dreams up those long road trips.

While customers concerned about the environment will still choose a hybrid over an electric car, the government seems to have other plans as detailed by an unnamed official, put out in article by the Economic Times.

Big Plans

The article states that government has finalised plans for a rather ambitious programme which has just one definitive goal – to power most of the vehicles in India using battery power only by 2030.

While the plan is not far fetched and has been discussed before, it’s the detail as to how the government will go about implementing it that may get vehicle owners concerned if not shocked.

The new scheme which has been finalised on, with inputs from manufacturers, ministry of road transport, power, petroleum and many more, includes limited tax break for manufacturers and the sale of electric vehicles without a battery inside.

An Electric car with no battery?

Why would you buy an electric car without its only source of power inside? Well, you will, because it will cost you less. This is because almost 40 percent of an electric vehicle’s price is taken up by the cost of the battery inside.

The government’s ambitious plan to go green by 2030 includes the leasing of batteries of commercial electric vehicles, much like Renault has done with it Zoe plugin electric. This brings down the price of the electric vehicles, (which are by default expensive to produce in limited quantities for limited buyers) and the customer will not need to worry about battery replacements, which turns out to be a rather expensive affair when the battery begins to fail after regular use.

An electric car chassis
An electric car chassis the battery takes up the major portion.

But it takes this leasing business a step further. As per the policy according to the unnamed official, two-wheelers, three-wheelers and non-air-conditioned city buses will be sold (read: forced to) to buyers without batteries as part of the plan. This is part of phase one, which consists of public transport vehicles. Batteries will be leased at a specific cost and can reportedly be swapped in 2 – 10 minutes when they run out of charge much like Tesla’s battery swap program. As for taxis, the government is considering fast charging electric stations. The hot Indian summers will not be in your favour when the plan goes live as this only applies to non-AC vehicles and will not work for AC cars and AC buses (talk about going back to the sweaty 90s).

(Also readGovt’s push for electric vehicles has been narrow minded; must focus on the broader picture)

And all of the above is expected to be fuelled by aggregators as per the report, that should help push plan drastically when implemented.

As for the common car buyer or for privately owned vehicles, the details are not out yet, so you will still need to hold your breath.

Speed breakers

While it may look and sound like a rosy picture this would only happen in an ideal scenario. But there are a few problems with implementing such ideas.

The infrastructure for these replaceable batteries for electric vehicles needs to be in place. More importantly, there are other dark areas as to whether all these vehicles will be powered by one modular battery system (like our home grown Sun Mobility) or will these batteries come from individual manufacturers who will take responsibility of maintenance and recycling. Clearly, a battery in an electric vehicle isn’t as interchangeable as petrol is universal to all petrol driven vehicles.

Standardisation aside, all these vehicles (beginning with the commercial ones) will also have to adhere to some design norms in order to make quick battery replacements possible. Tesla back in 2013 showcased its battery swap program, implemented it at one station in January 2015 and was pretty much dead by June 2015 as per a report by Fortune.

Battery replacement system by Better Place.
Battery replacement system by Better Place.

Commenting on the shutdown of the program, CEO Elon Musk had said, “People don’t care about pack swap. The superchargers are fast enough. Based on what we’re seeing here, it’s unlikely to be something that’s worth expanding in the future unless something changes,” said Musk. Tesla’s battery swap took just 90 seconds, but was not popular among customers for a various reasons. Moreover, Gigaom reported that each battery swaping station would cost Tesla $500,000 (roughly Rs 3,20,17,500) to build.

And the second problem is once again the infrastructure. If manufacturers are to reduce the cost of these electric vehicles and not just the batteries, they will translate to shorter range. Which once again points to the availability of replaceable battery stations and quick-charging stations all over the country.

And then comes talk about the elephant in the room – recycling. India is not exactly known for its stand on recycling. Yes, there is money involved, and yes it is possible, but it is just not happening. Battery recycling is a mammoth task and has plenty of benefits but only in a closed loop scenario where designs of electric car batteries are standardised, meaning that once recycled, they can be used again by the same manufacturers to build fresh new batteries. And when you add tonnes of heavy and massive electric batteries to this mix, it’s hard to figure out where these will go when it comes to recycling and having a truly green 2030. Let’s hope there is a plan for this as well.

What is good sign of this rather odd plan to push for electric vehicles, is that the price tags of batteries would be coming down. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report clearly shows off how in a few years, falling battery prices will undercut gasoline cars in terms of manufacturing. But this again works in an ideal scenario where everything goes as planned.

By 2030 will the world begin to wave good bye to diesel and petrol vehicles, possibly thanks to efforts by automotive giants like Mercedes, Volkswagen and General Motors, but its adoption in India, will remain solely in the hands of the Indian government, how it plays with the idea and not Indian buyers.

In short, if you don’t fancy buying an electric car right now, it’s not your fault.

Publish date: April 26, 2017 1:50 pm| Modified date: April 26, 2017 1:50 pm

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,