Shared mobility could be catalyst for electric vehicle future

Smart and clean mobility requires strategy planning, policy making and a calibrated approach, whereby manufacturing needs to be attuned to consumer demands.

 When the transport industry completely shifts from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to electric and hybrid mobility, the impact it will make on India will go beyond traffic-related matters.

Electric and hybrid mobility will determine the manner in which the economy shapes up. Nevertheless, several issues need to be ironed out for electric vehicles (EVs) to become mainstream and hence a success.

A case in point is ICEs, which are cheaper than EV batteries. In the past, early proponents of EVs imported lead acid gel-based batteries. Import duties made this expensive. This is slated to change. The Union Budget 2020 has raised the customs duty on many components used in EVs. This has been done to lower the country’s dependence on imports and give the ‘Make in India’ initiative another push.

The Union Budget’s announcement is an opportunity to create EV batteries with local components, mass produce them and make them affordable for domestic consumption. “We need to win consumer confidence by manufacturing our own detachable and swappable batteries. Battery mileage and security are other highlights, whereby drivers can check into swap stations every 3-5km,” said Manikandan S, founder-director, Spero Mobility and Energy Solutions Ltd.

These swap stations or charging stations should be designed in such a way that cars can easily to drive in, whilst at the same time being a sympathetic part of local urban development and retaining a pedestrian-friendly layout.

Another means of cutting costs in the EV segment is to introduce the idea of shared mobility. Several startups are working to popularise the concept. Bounce, a mobility-sharing company, rents out EVs through its service via mobile app. Located in various parts of Bangalore, its battery-swapping systems have been generating revenue since its inception.

The global trend points to the fact that electric and hybrid mobility took off before shared mobility in many parts of the world. Tesla happened before ‘rent-a-cab’ became a reality. In India, it’s vice versa. “Shared mobility can be a catalyst for electric and hybrid mobility. The transition from petrol-diesel vehicles to EVs will happen. If EVs are positioned in the shared mobility category, then users need not burn a hole in their pocket. They only have to pay for the duration of using the vehicle; it’s a pay-as-you-go model,” explained Bharath Devanathan, senior vice president, Bounce.

During Covid, Bounce’s fleet turned fully electric. It’s intended to add another 2-3,000 EVs to the existing fleet by the end of this year.

EVs are being increasingly used within large campuses to keep a check on pollution levels. A case in point is the IT Company Wipro Limited. The company has encouraged its employees to use EVs in its facilities. Around 60-65 EVs has been made available to its staff in the Bangalore facility, complete with charging stations. “Our technology solutions partner gave us telematics to run the EVs. The EV user experience remains a noise-less one. Post-Covid, we are looking at two-wheeler EVs for employees living less than 20km distance from our office,” added Nittan Bhalla, general manager, Wipro Limited.

Covid has boosted the personal mobility space, wherein consumers are increasingly opting for two wheelers. The general consensus is that it’s better to have one’s own vehicle than to use public transport. The logic applies to EVs as well. FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) India is a part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan. The media has reported that in its second iteration, FAME India II has incentivised 5,595 electric buses for Rs 2,800 crore. The FAME India programme, which was launched in 2015, covers two wheelers, three wheelers, four wheelers and buses.

EVs could be seen as a means of building strength in the motor space. They are a form of transport and still they keep the carbon footprint under control. Coming to energy storage, India can strengthen its capacities in cell manufacturing. R&D opportunities need to be explored. “The government should chalk out a roadmap for an EV Cell to standardise operations. This will pave the way for investments and private equity in the EV space,” reasoned Manikandan, whose startup in Coimbatore has arrived at a compact ec-friendly electric bike designed with digital gears.

Energy operators and vehicle manufacturers come together to arrive at EVs. Mobility needs to be understood as something fundamental and requires sustenance. The next wave of electric and hybrid vehicles should use technology and sound infrastructure to address the challenges faced by manufacturers, EV component makers, charging stations and fleet operators.

These insights were shared at CII Karnataka’s online Environment and Sustainability Conference, ‘Smart & Clean Mobility: Towards Electrifying Energising Karnataka’.